BACKGROUND: To describe the current treatment gap in management of cardiovascular risk factors in patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes in general practice as well as the associated financial and therapeutic burden of pharmacological treatment. METHODS: Cross-sectional analysis of data from the Patient Engagement and Coaching for Health trial. This totalled 473 patients from 59 general practices with participants eligible if they had HbA1c > 7.5%. Main outcome measures included proportions of patients not within target risk factor levels and weighted average mean annual cost for cardiometabolic medications and factors associated with costs. Medication costs were derived from the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule. RESULTS: Average age was 63 (range 27-89). Average HbA1c was 8.1% and average duration of diabetes was 10 years. 35% of patients had at least one micro or macrovascular complication and patients were taking a mean of 4 cardio-metabolic medications. The majority of participants on treatment for cardiovascular risk factors were not achieving clinical targets, with 74% and 75% of patients out of target range for blood pressure and lipids respectively. A significant proportion of those not meeting clinical targets were not on treatment at all. The weighted mean annual cost for cardiometabolic medications was AUD$1384.20 per patient (2006-07). Independent factors associated with cost included age, duration of diabetes, history of acute myocardial infarction, proteinuria, increased waist circumference and depression. CONCLUSIONS: Treatment rates for cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes in our participants are higher than those identified in earlier studies. However, rates of achieving target levels remain low despite the large 'pill burden' and substantial associated fiscal costs to individuals and the community. The complexities of balancing the overall benefits of treatment intensification against potential disadvantages for patients and health care systems in primary care warrants further investigation.