Insulin costs have been a controversial topic in pharma for years, with the leading manufacturers facing routine scrutiny for their pricing strategies. In a move poised to shake up the market, Walmart on Tuesday revealed that it will sell private-label analog insulin at a deep discount to those branded options.
In an agreement with manufacturer Novo Nordisk, which provides the Arkansas-based company with insulin, Walmart will sell vials of its ReliOn NovoLog at $72.88, which according to the company represents a savings of $101 over the branded version. Walmart plans to sell a box of injectable pens for $85.88, which saves customers $251. Walmart says it’ll knock up to 78% off the price of insulins.
The price represents “real innovation,” Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive VP of health and wellness, told reporters.
Walmart worked with Novo Nordisk “to ensure that we passed on any savings” to customers, Pegus said. ReliOn NovoLog is the “same product, same quality, same safety, same efficacy,” of other analog insulin.
As it attempts to attract customers to its healthcare business, Walmart’s offerings could appeal to many who skip doses because of the cost of insulin. A 2019 study by the CDC showed that among adults, 14.9% of women and 11.6% of men do not take their medication as prescribed.
Approximately 34 million Americans have diabetes, with more than 7 million requiring insulin. Walmart says ReliOn can be used by those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Walmart’s big dive into the insulin market comes after the three top players—Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Sanofi—have cut costs in response to pricing criticism and government pressure.
In 2019, Sanofi created an Insulin Valyou Savings Program, charging patients $99 per month regardless of their income. Last year, Novo Nordisk followed suit, offering its My$99Insulin program, a monthly supply, also for $99.
Lilly made a similar move in 2019, producing an alternative to its Humalog insulin, offering Lispro at $137.35 per vial and $265.20 for a five-pack of injection pens.
Earlier that year, Lilly came under criticism from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, for a price jump from $21 per vial in 1996 to $275. Wyden said the drug “isn’t 13 times as effective as it used to be.”
Last year, Wyden co-authored a scathing Senate Finance Committee report titled, “Insulin: Examining the Factors Driving the Rising Cost of a Century Old Drug.” More recently, Mississippi’s attorney general Lynn Fitch sued manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers over their pricing strategies.