Millions of Americans Are at Risk for Diabetes. Here’s How to Get Screened

Mature woman doing blood sugar test at home in a living room.
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November is National Diabetes Month.

In the U.S., approximately 29.1 million people are living with diabetes (either type 1 or type 2). Medical expenditures for those people are as much as 2.3 times higher than for a person living without diabetes.

Diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is most often diagnosed in children, teens and young adults.

Type 2 diabetes is more common. It makes up about 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes, yet it’s estimated that in 2015, as many as 7.2 million adults were undiagnosed. That same year, 84.1 million Americans aged 18 and older had prediabetes, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy but often goes away soon after delivery. However, if you’ve ever been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you and your baby are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Fortunately, there are simple and fairly inexpensive (and sometimes even free!) tests that can let you know if you have diabetes or if you’re at risk of developing it later in life.

Who Should Get Screened for Diabetes

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults aged 40 to 70 be screened for abnormal blood glucose and diabetes. However, if you or a family member are experiencing what may be symptoms of type 2 diabetes, you should talk to a medical professional about your concerns, regardless of age.  

(Type 1 diabetes is unlike type 2 in that type 1 is too often diagnosed only when it reaches a critical point, meaning most symptoms may go undetected until a physical crisis occurs. Still, there are symptoms to watch for that may be indicative of type 1 diabetes.)

You should consider being screened for type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are over 45 years of age
  • Have a history of gestational diabetes
  • Are overweight
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have a close relative who has been diagnosed with diabetes

Inexpensive and Free Screening for Type 2 Diabetes

Many health care providers and facilities offer inexpensive and free type 2 diabetes screenings and tests.

It’s important to note that because your blood glucose levels fluctuate, a single test may be inconclusive. Most health care professionals will request more than one type of test.

  • This free online calculator can help you assess your risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point in your life. This is not a diagnosis by any means, but knowing the chances of someday developing type 2 diabetes may help some people change their habits and head off a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
  • Medicare Part B may cover up to two diabetes screenings each year. Part B covers the cost of lab tests if you have high blood pressure, a history of abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, a history of high blood sugar or are considered obese. Part B will also cover the cost of a screening if you are any combination of: over 65 years of age, overweight, have a family history of diabetes or have a personal history of gestational diabetes.
  • Hospitals, medical centers and places like CVS, Walgreens, Costco and Sam’s Club usually offer inexpensive diabetes screening options. However, they also often offer entirely free type 2 diabetes screening days. You’ll have to keep an eye on the event calendars in your area and at your local stores, or feel free to call ahead and ask about any upcoming screening days.
  • If at any point you’re diagnosed with prediabetes, the precursor to a more severe type 2 diabetes diagnosis, you can actually reverse or put off a type 2 diabetes diagnosis through diet and lifestyle changes. Research shows that you can actually reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after a prediabetes diagnosis by 58% by losing body fat and exercising moderately.
  • If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you can go here to find a community of people who are living with the same diagnosis. The ADA has free community message boards and “town hall” style educational opportunities that you can participate in.

Cheap and Free Diabetes Supplies and Care Resources

Getting screened for diabetes is only the first step in managing this costly disease. For people living with diabetes (in any form), medical costs for regular testing, management and necessary supplies add up quickly.

  • Nearly every blood glucose meter manufacturer will send you a voucher for a free meter if you fill out a short form on their website. You can go here for a brief overview of some companies that will send you a voucher, a list of which supplies work with that meter and how to check if those supplies are covered by your insurance. Some manufacturers will also send out coupons and vouchers for test strips periodically.
    Be aware, however, that companies give out free meters so that you will purchase test strips through them, and for many, that’s where diabetes care begins to get costly. You can go here for a list of test strip brands, retailers and prices so you can comparison shop.
  • If you have insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, you can often get test strips for cheap or free with a prescription from a doctor.
  • You can search online for “short-dated” test strips. These are test strips that are nearing their expiration date and are often sold at a fraction of the retail price. Many online retailers offer test strips at deeply discounted prices.
  • The Partnership for Prescription Assistance has a wealth of resources to contact if you need financial assistance when dealing with a variety of diabetes-related issues, from vision help to low-cost insulin syringes. (Also included here: service animals, test strips, amputation prevention and more diagnosis services.)
  • Medicare and Medicaid cover a significant portion of diabetes testing and supplies. Benefits vary by state, but both programs will at least partially cover the cost of things like meters, test strips and syringes. In some situations, other things like therapeutic shoes or insoles, eye exams and self-management education programs may be available at no cost to you.
  • CHIP, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, is a federally and state-funded program that provides uninsured children with health coverage. Benefits vary by state, but most include coverage for screening, diagnosis and treatment services. If a state does impose fees and copayments, they’re usually limited to no more than 5% of a family’s income.

Millions of Americans are living with type 2 diabetes and don’t even know it. Stay on top of your health by getting screened and by addressing and managing your symptoms.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.