Can a tool help overcome barriers to diabetes medication cost?


As public attention continues to focus on making insulin affordable, a new online guide is available to help clinicians approach discussions with patients about diabetes medication affordability and access.

The resource, “Having Healthcare Cost Conversations to Improve Patient Outcomes: A Practical Guide,” was jointly developed by the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists and Beyond Type 1, the nonprofit patient advocacy organization.

Indeed, the guide appeared as President Biden discussed his proposal to cap insulin costs at $35 per insulin vial during the State of the Union address, during which he introduced a young boy with type 1 diabetes in the guest box, as reported by this news organization. On March 3, Civica, a nonprofit coalition of health systems and philanthropies, announced it plans to manufacture generic insulin at a deeply discounted price, as reported by this news organization.

“Just to see diabetes front and center at the State of the Union followed by these announcements is certainly reflective of our own advocacy effort to make sure that people have affordable options for insulin, diabetes medications, services,” Kate Thomas, ADCES chief advocacy and external affairs officer, said in an interview. She added that ADCES has also pushed for legislation in Congress that would expand access to diabetes self-management training under the Medicare program.

The guide includes advice about overcoming barriers to discussing treatment costs with patients, suggested questions to ask patients about specific costs, and determinants of health and conversational approaches. Links are provided to resources for obtaining affordable insulin, other diabetes medications, and continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pump equipment.

“We know that, especially during primary care visits, there is limited time along with numbers of issues to talk about, so I think our challenge is how do we prioritize these conversations with something that can lead to action, not just saying you should do this but how do you actually do it,” Ms. Thomas said.

The introduction summarizes results from a 2021 Beyond Type 1 survey confirming prior findings reported by this news organization that cost is a frequent barrier for many individuals living with diabetes. “Especially right now where we are in terms of the impact of the pandemic and with peoples’ job statuses changing, I think it’s worthwhile to raise this in patient encounters,” Ms. Thomas said.

Overcoming conversational barriers

The first of three tables in the guide provides a list of “barriers to having a cost conversation” in the first column and “suggested solutions” in the second. For example, for the barrier, “You have insufficient time and/or knowledge about cost,” the suggestion is, “request and share available faculty and resources, including benefits coordinators, social workers, and community-based organizations. Work with the pharmacists and other members of the diabetes care team to identify resources that lower cost of medications.”

And for another barrier, “patients are often embarrassed or ashamed to initiate discussions of affordability,” the suggested solution is: “Normalize the issue of cost of care barriers for patients.”

A second table offers specific questions to ask patients about costs of medications and care, determinants of health, and financial barriers. These include: “What are some challenges you’ve had to accessing your medications or taking them as prescribed? What are some out-of-pocket health care costs you need help with? What challenges do you have accessing healthy food for you and your family?”

A link to a screening tool for social determinants of health is also included.

Language suggestions include talking about “cost of care” rather than “money,” asking patients if they’ve understood everything correctly by repeating back what they’ve said, and asking for confirmation and discussing follow-up.

Overall, the tool is designed to be a “broad conversation starter,” and not just about medications, Ms. Thomas said. “This is for all audiences and it’s meant to be something that the provider can tailor depending on who they’re speaking to. ... It’s about medications, but also the entire cost of care, including services and devices, transportation to appointments, access to food. ... Diabetes care isn’t just taking medication. It’s so many more factors.”

Ms. Thomas reported no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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