The retail giant Walmart has launched its first private brand of analog insulin in the United States, called ReliOn Novolog, but some advocates worry the lower-cost drug is still too expensive for many.
The products will be available at Walmart pharmacies this week and at Sam's Club pharmacies across the U.S. by mid-July. Like the brand-name Novolog, they will also be manufactured by Novo Nordisk and will require a prescription.
The new product will cost $72.88 per vial and $85.88 for a package of FlexPens. This represents savings of 58% to 75% off the cash price of branded analog products, or up to $101 per branded vial and $251 per FlexPens package, according to the company. Walmart's other ReliOn insulins — NPH, Regular, and 70/30 mix — are all human insulin rather than analog insulin,and sell for about $25 a vial. The similar apid-acting lispro analog insulin (Admelog, Sanofi) retails for about $150 a vial.
Analog insulin differs from human insulin; the former is typically lab-made and is considered to be more effective and easier to administer than human insulin.
Some Advocates Say the Cost Is Still Too High
But some are not so sure that the company’s product will truly “revolutionize the access and affordability to diabetes care," as Walmart claimed in its press release announcing the news.
On Twitter, some users pointed out that the $73/vial price tag is still too steep for many and is far more than the price of analog insulin in other westernized countries. For instance long-timediabetes advocate Kelly Rawlings, MPH, tweeted: "Rapid-acting insulin analog (for mealtime dosing): Walmart's private label insulin brand pen or vial, for diabetes. Vial $72.88. Why not $7.30?"
And Hilary Koch (@HilaryKochME), policy manager for T1International, an advocacy organization that does not take pharma funding, tweeted: "Walmart insulin for $75? Even my 15-year old figured out that this was a smokescreen to keep lawmakers from taking real action. $75 x 3 = $225...Hey, Pharma. We see through you. We need a federal price cap. #insulin4all"
Organizations React Positively, Yet Caution More Work Is Needed
"Diabetes often comes with high medical costs, estimated around $9,601 per person per year. We welcome all affordable solutions that make diabetes management more accessible to millions of Americans living with diabetes. We encourage everyone to ask their health care provider questions to better understand what the right and affordable treatment is for their unique medical needs,” Tracey D. Brown, chief executive officer of the American Diabetes Association, said in a statement from Walmart
Type 1 diabetes research and advocacy organization, JDRF, applauded the news, saying, in part, that it “welcomes Walmart's announcement regarding their plan to offer lower-cost insulin...For people with type 1 diabetes, insulin is a lifesaving drug that no one should ever have to ration or go without. No one should die because they can't afford their insulin.”
Still,"while today's announcement is a step toward making insulin affordable for everyone, more needs to be done,” the organization said “JDRF will continue to urgently drive long-term efforts and push for action from manufacturers, health plans, employers, and the government to remove accessibility barriers."
Meanwhile, in a statement from Beyond Type 1, an advocacy group that partners with Novo Nordisk, chief advocacy officer Christel Marchand Aprigliano said: "The launch of Walmart's private-label ReliOn analog insulin is one step closer to ensuring that no one rations or dies from lack of affordable access to insulin in the United States, but longer-term systemic change is needed. We look forward to the elimination of more barriers through both commercial innovation and legislative policy efforts."