What Walmart’s lower-priced insulin means for the market
Walmart’s launch of its own brand of analog insulin could have big pricing implications for a market that has been under fire in recent years by critics for the rising costs of their drugs.
The world’s largest retailer announced Tuesday it will sell a less expensive version of Novo Nordisk’s analog insulin product, Novolog, under Walmart’s new private label, ReliOn Novolog. It will be available at its more than 4,800 pharmacies beginning this week and at its Sam’s Club pharmacies starting in mid-July.
“This price point we hope will improve and hopefully revolutionize the accessibility and affordability of insulin,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness in a call with reporters.
Walmart’s offerings will cost $72.88 for vials and $85.88 for a FlexPen version. The average price of a vial of analog insulin ranged from $174 to $300, according to a 2018 study in the American Diabetes Association journal, Diabetes Care. An estimated 3 million of Walmart’s customers are believed to have diabetes. ReliOn Novolog insulin will require a prescription, Pegus said.
The affordability of analog insulin is a longstanding issue for many of the more than 34 million Americans with diabetes.
Between 2012 and 2017, average out-of-pocket spending on insulin rose from $77 in 2012 to $113 in 2017, an increase of more than 40%, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.
The steep rise in insulin prices have prompted Congress to investigate potential root causes.
Across the globe, the U.S. has the highest insulin prices by far of any developed nation. A 2020 RAND Corp. report found the average manufacturer price per unit of analog insulin was $99 in the U.S., compared to the second most expensive country Japan, which paid $14 per unit.
Novo Nordisk Spokesman Michael Bachner said the company was aware of the affordability challenges, but that they were driven by many factors, and that there was no single solution help everyone.
“We remain committed to providing options in the marketplace to help people afford the medicine they need,” Bachner said.
The insulin launch marks the latest, and potentially most substantial step Walmart has taken made yet into a therapy market valued at around $27 billion.
For years the retailer has sold human insulin over-the-counter under its ReliOn brand at a price of about $25 a vial.
But patients who switched from analog versions of insulin to the more affordable OTC human insulin types faced a number of safety concerns if they were not monitored by a doctor. Human OTC insulin products can have less predictable rates of absorption, making it more difficult to regulate blood sugar levels compared to analog insulin.