Walmart is taking its “everyday low price” motto further into the world of prescription drugs with a more affordable insulin product, and some advocates for people with diabetes are cheering.
The world’s largest retailer said Tuesday that its U.S. pharmacies would begin selling private-label analog, or synthetic, insulin this week. The product is called ReliOn NovoLog Insulin, and it’s available for adults and children with a doctor’s prescription. Walmart’s Sam’s Club pharmacies will start offering the new medication, manufactured by Novo Nordisk, in mid-July. Walmart said the insulin injections, which come in vials for use with a syringe and in prefilled FlexPen applicators, will save customers between 58% and 75% off the cash price of branded insulin products.
The cost of insulin has skyrocketed, doubling or even tripling in the last 10 years and prompting a congressional probe into why this century-old drug continues to cost so much and what can be done to bring the price down for the growing number of people who need it. The investigation found that “opaque business practices” were to blame. But there’s been little movement on a bill reintroduced this year, called H.R. 3, or the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, and Walmart’s move came as a welcome surprise to advocates for people with diabetes.
“Insulin is a lifesaving drug that no one should ever have to ration or go without,” the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation said in a statement. “No one should die because they can’t afford their insulin...JDRF applauds this new effort.”
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control found that 34.2 million Americans had diabetes and 88 million more adults were prediabetic.
Analog insulin like ReliOn Novolog is considered more effective than human insulin because it is absorbed more quickly, allowing for more precise timing. However, Walmart cautioned that customers should always consult with their doctors to make sure this type of insulin is suitable for them.
“We know many people with diabetes struggle to manage the financial burden of this condition, and we are focused on helping by providing affordable solutions,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president of Walmart Health & Wellness, in a statement. “We also know this is a condition that disproportionately impacts underserved populations. With ReliOn NovoLog Insulin, we’re adding a high-quality medication for diabetes to the already affordable ReliOn line of products and continuing our commitment to improve access and lowering cost of care.”
This isn’t the first time Walmart has stepped into the prescription drug ring. In 2006, the company disrupted the industry with its $4 prescription drug program, which offered nearly 300 generic drugs for only $4 per prescription (for up to a 30-day supply at commonly prescribed dosages). It also partnered with Humana on the Humana Walmart Value Rx Plan that allows copays as low as $1 with a $0 deductible on a wide range of low- and medium-cost generic and brand-name drugs.
Senior citizens on a fixed income will particularly benefit from the new insulin product. “I think this has been very much needed and is a first step in the right direction,” said Mary Johnson, policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League. ”Walmart is always a leader in terms of changes in Medicare. If it wasn't for Walmart, there are millions of retirees who would be in a world of hurt.”
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