Managing diabetes isn’t just about making lifestyle changes. You’ll have to be ready for the costs that come with it too. Here are the numbers to factor in your war against diabetes.
Diabetes is a real problem globally. Spreading through the affluent and emerging economies alike, it’s been called the biggest epidemic of the 21st century. And with Singapore having the highest proportion of people with diabetes in the developed world, it could well become one of the most expensive diseases for us too.
Many people think of diabetes as simply an issue of high sugar levels. And because the disease is symptom-free, many people don’t know they have it and those who do know they have it feel fine and so they don’t take it seriously. In fact, high blood sugar levels can lead to heart disease, increased risk of stroke, blindness and clogged arteries that can lead to amputations.
In a bid to get citizens to recognise the impact of the disease, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared a war on diabetes during the 2017 National Day Rally.
While diabetes usually affects people past the age of 40, with more patients in older age groups, it’s also known to strike people as young as 18. But for all the alarm it’s causing globally, this is one illness that can be managed so that it doesn’t impair your quality of life or become a financial burden.
So, how much does diabetes cost Singapore?
In 2010, Singapore spent more than S$1 billion on diabetes, a figure that’s expected to climb past S$2.5 billion by 20501. 42% of the amount is for medical treatment and the rest for indirect productivity-related losses.
And how much will it cost an individual with diabetes?
At the individual level, here’s a rundown of potential expenses if you have diabetes.
Blood tests allow for the screening and detection of diabetes or pre-diabetes, which affects about 1 in 7 people in Singapore2.
Cost: At polyclinics, hospitals and CHAS-participating clinics, a screening costs S$5 or less with subsidy . If you go private, you’ll spend upwards of S$50.
To help keep blood glucose levels in the healthy range, people with diabetes may need to take more than one type of medication, 1 to 3 times a day.
Cost: S$0.06 to S$6.26 per pill, according to the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. That’s S$21.90 to S$2,285 a year (based on 1 daily dose of the cheapest and most expensive drugs respectively).
When tablets are no longer effective or during certain periods like illness or surgery, insulin injections may be required on a daily basis or as otherwise prescribed by a doctor.
Cost: S$7.69 to almost S$120 per cartridge or vial of insulin.
Home blood glucose monitoring tools
Regular blood glucose monitoring is crucial for several reasons: ensuring your blood glucose level stays within the acceptable range, helping evaluate your current diabetes management strategies, and identifying diabetes complications such as hyperglycaemia, where blood sugar hits extremely high levels and can lead to emergencies such as a diabetic coma.
Cost: A complete kit with glucometer and 50 test strips could cost S$75. Additional strips are about S$30 per box of 25 strips. For almost daily tests, the cost of the strips with the glucometer could come up to S$435 annually.
If you have diabetes, you’ll need to visit your doctor regularly, at least once in 3 months and more often if your diabetes isn’t well controlled.
Cost: S$12.50 for a polyclinic visit, or S$50 per year for 4 check-ups. If you go private, the cost could more than double.
If you have diabetes, an important part of your action plan is a diet overhaul. This may include things like swapping white bread for wholemeal bread, brown rice for white rice and choosing leaner cuts of meat and healthier oils for cooking, such as olive or canola oil. As these healthier options tend to be dearer, you can expect your weekly marketing and food expenses to increase significantly.
Income loss can occur due to unpaid leave for regular medical check-ups, hospitalisation or surgery. And should you have diabetes complications that require amputation of a limb, for instance, it could result in having to switch to a lower-paying job or stopping work altogether – on top of managing long-term care costs.
Other illnesses caused by diabetes
Unmanaged diabetes is often associated with complications such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and if you’re male, erectile dysfunction.
Every year in Singapore, poor management of diabetes results in serious complications3
- 1 in 2 people who had a heart attack had diabetes
- 2 in 5 people who had stroke had diabetes
- 2 in 3 new kidney failure cases were due to diabetes
Cost: Such complications will require sophisticated treatment and hospitalisation. When a diabetes patient has severe kidney problems for instance, regular dialysis may be needed. This can easily cost S$30,000 annually, without subsidy.
What you can do to fight diabetes financially
Once you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, going for regular health screenings can be helpful in detecting problems before they become more advanced and hence, more costly.
Unless you have a huge surplus in your bank account that can adequately cover your medical and long-term care needs, it’s also a good idea to review your insurance plans to ensure you’re adequately covered. Aviva’s MyCoreCI Plan is an all-in-one protection plan that offers coverage against 14 major critical illnesses, diabetic conditions, total and permanent disability, terminal illness and death, even if you have Type 2 Diabetes, Pre-diabetes or the 3 Highs (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and High Body Mass Index). To find out more, leave your details in the form below.
1 Study: Cost of diabetes to Singapore to soar beyond $2.5b, The Straits Times, 13 April 2016 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Extracted with permission
2 Not just sugar: You might be eating your way to pre-diabetes and not even know it, Channel News Asia, 13 November 2018.
3 Health Facts Singapore, Ministry of Health, Singapore
Updated on: May 2020