Walmart rolls out discounted insulin, but patients still grapple with high prices

As Walmart touts its efforts to make healthcare more affordable, the company struck a deal with drugmaker Novo Nordisk to offer a discounted version of its analog fast-acting insulin. Walmart plans to offer a private-label version of its Novolog insulin that costs about $73 per vial or $86 per insulin pen, which would be between 58% to 75% less than the current cash price.

While it’s likely to help some people, it still doesn’t address the root problem that overall insulin prices have skyrocketed in recent years. According to a Senate report that came out in early 2021, between 2014 and 2019, the cost of the Novolog FlexPen increased by more than 70% to $558 in 2018, mirroring price hikes by competitors.

Walmart launched its line of private-label diabetes products back in 2012, including test strips, glucometers and an over-the counter insulin brand for $25. It first offered a private-label version of Novartis’ Novolin insulin, an older type of human insulin that has a less predictable rate of absorption, which can pose challenges for patients who are switching from different types of insulin.

The newer product, called ReliOn NovoLog, is an insulin analog, which is designed to mimic the body’s natural pattern of insulin release and is generally absorbed more predictably. Patients must have a prescription to get it.

At least 3 million Walmart customers have diabetes, said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness. Past studies have shown that rising costs and high-deductible plans have resulted in some patients foregoing needed care, such as going to fewer check-ups or buying fewer test strips.

“This price point we hope will improve, and hopefully revolutionize the accessibility and affordability of insulin,” Pegus said in a Monday press call.

Like Walmart’s other healthcare offerings, these are designed to be accessible for patients without comprehensive insurance coverage. In recent years, the company began building out a series of health clinics with cash-pay primary care, dental and other preventive services priced as low as $40 per visit. Although it still has some plans for new clinics in the works, many of the leaders behind that effort have departed the company.

Walmart also recently closed on its planned acquisition of telehealth startup MeMD, which would add virtual urgent care and psychiatry visits to complement its in-person services.

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