Yesterday I started using a Continuous Blood Glucose Meter (a Dexcom G4 Platinum).

I'll blog again once I've got more experience in day to day use. I've got good reason to believe it will make an astonishing difference to my diabetes management in terms of my daily life and my clinical outcomes.

First up, however, I'm going to blog about their cost.

  • There's more than one Continuous Blood Glucose Metering System (CGMS) available, and there are differences in cost.
  • There are two ways of getting one in Australia: persuade someone (eg a Diabetes Education Centre) to loan you one, or buy one yourself.
  • Medicare won't pay for your CGMS or its supplies
  • The National Diabetes Supply Scheme won't pay for your CGMS or its supplies
  • Private Health Insurance won't pay for your CGMS or its supplies

There's not a lot to love about the way that access to health care is organised in the US, but this is a rare case where I'd be better off as an employee covered by a good US Health Insurance scheme, because there would be a good chance my CGMS costs would get covered in the US. I think there is a very strong case for subsidising CGMS in Australia, but  it's a very hard ask.


In my case there are two pieces of hardware (prices are likely to vary as temporary price offers are introduced or expire):
  • the Receiver: AU$810. In theory this can last forever.
  • a Transmitter: AU $595. In theory this will last at least 6 months, but I expect longer.
  • Sensors: AU$396 (currently for 5, but list price that's the cost of 4). In theory each sensor lasts 7 days.

Justifying the cost

I'm glad the cost of the Receiver/Transmitter has come down from the cost of previous generations of these devices (many thousands), because I can cope with the upfront cost. The Sensors will have an eye-watering effect on the family budget. I justified it as follows: Running this system is roughly comparable to supporting a smoking habit of about a packet of cigarettes per day. People on all sorts of income levels manage to pay to support a habit that destroys their health.

Surely I can pay a similar amount for something that will improve my health?

When we discussed using CGMS my endocrinologist said "If it didn't cost anything, we'd have every type 1 diabetic on CGMS".

Standard blood glucose monitoring (using fingerpricks) was expensive when it arrived in the early 1980s: $600 for a meter and about a dollar per test strip. These days the meters are about a hundred dollars (and often given away) and the strips are $0.60 per strip(*) without a subsidy and less than twenty cents per strip with the subsidy. (People do anything from four to 14 tests per day.) Following the adoption of standard blood glucose monitoring, the health outcomes for people with diabetes have been steadily improving.

There is a measurable improvement in diabetes control with CGMS. The easiest measurement is the HbA1c level - an 'average' of your control over a period of 3 months. It's a rough measure of control, but the easiest one to get. It appears clear that CGMS improves HbA1c levels. See this article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Epidemiologists and Health Economists will probably decide for a while to come that the size of the HbA1c benefits are not sufficient to justify a large new subsidy under the National Diabetes Supply Scheme.

There's another measure that is of interest: Glycemic Variability. How much does a person's blood glucose levels fluctuate? I have an excellent "average" (HbA1c) level, but I know from my own records (numbers copied into spreadsheets!) that I only spend about 50% of my time in a normal glucose range. Averages can be very deceptive!  Until CGMS arrived, it was hard to measure people's Glycemic Variability because most people don't do fingerprick blood glucose tests often enough to be statistically useful. So there aren't many large scale studies on how important it is for long term survival and avoiding complications. The evidence is starting to suggest that it is important. See this study. When these studies multiply (and maybe costs come down), CGMS might justify a subsidy.

The other factor that OUGHT to be considered is the degree to which CGMS improves daily life. It's too early for me to speak from my own experience, but I have reason to expect the following benefits:
  • A protection against Hypo (low blood sugar) unawareness (I only sometimes feel symptoms when my blood sugar drops to dangerous levels)
  • ... (remembering of course, that from time to time people with diabetes die from acutely low or high blood glucose levels)
  • a reduction in the number of times I feel "tired" (and unproductive) as my blood glucose goes up or down - improved quality of life (and, for the economists: economic productivity!)

(*) Update 22nd May 2013: In an earlier version of this blog posting, I made a silly mistake calculating the cost of blood glucose tests strips. The incorrect costs I originally posted of 6 and 2 cents have been changed to the correct figure of sixty cents per strip (retail) and less than twenty cents per strip (after NDSS subsidy).

Comments (4)
Anthony Holmes May 10th, 2013 09:17:22 AM