Walmart sells low-price insulin to uninsured as more patients with diabetes struggle to pay for drug

Photo of Angela Mulka
The average cash price for insulin in the U.S. in late 2021 had risen more than 40% compared to early 2014. Due to the rising cost, one in four people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes resorted to rationing their insulin because of the high cost nationwide.

The average cash price for insulin in the U.S. in late 2021 had risen more than 40% compared to early 2014. Due to the rising cost, one in four people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes resorted to rationing their insulin because of the high cost nationwide.

Photo provided/Walmart

To help cover the rising cost of insulin for people whose insurance doesn't include it or the 28 million Americans without insurance Walmart offers the first-ever private brand analog insulin at a low cost.

The offering includes analog insulin vials retailing for $72.88 and FlexPens retailing for $85.88, according to Walmart in a press release highlighting its low-cost insulin on Wednesday.

An insulin-dependent diabetic could go through one vial anywhere from one week to a few months, according to the American Diabetes Association. 

Through a partnership with insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk, Walmart is selling the insulin products under a private label called ReliOn that saves customers up to 75% off the cash price of branded analog insulin.

This translates to a savings of up to $101 per branded vial or $251 per package of branded FlexPens, according to Walmart in the release.

The ReliOn private label of Novolog injection analog insulin in vials and FlexPens, as well as ReliOn NovoLog Mix 70/30, are available at Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies nationwide to anyone with a prescription, regardless of their insurance status.

"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," Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president for Walmart Health & Wellness, said 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."

For many with diabetes, their health depends on having reliable access to insulin. Insulin helps control blood sugar levels and prevent complications that diabetes causes.

And, people living in rural America are 17% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those in urban areas.

The rising price of insulin — a diabetes drug that’s been around 100 years — has been well documented and widely criticized.

Solutions, though, have been elusive.

"While drug pricing in the United States is complicated and involves many stakeholders, the public’s need for life-saving medications like insulin at predictable and more affordable prices should drive all of us to do more and do better," Walmart stated in the release.

National drug spending jumped 7.7% in 2021, growing to $576.9 billion, according to a study released in April 2022 by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The average cash price for insulin in the U.S. in late 2021 had risen more than 40% compared to early 2014. Due to the rising cost, one in four people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in the U.S. resorted to rationing their insulin because of the high cost, according to researchers for the Yale School of Medicine.

The consequences of skipping or reducing insulin treatments can put a diabetic's life at risk. Complications include an increased likelihood of blindness, amputations, heart attack and kidney failure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The rising cost of insulin has prompted lawmakers, including Congress, to call for price caps and for pharmaceutical companies to find ways to drop the cost for patients.

Walmart stated it was "encouraged" to see lawmakers at the federal and state levels recognize the need to make insulin more affordable.

In his State of the Union address on March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden called for a nationwide $35 cap on insulin copayments for those enrolled in private health plans or Medicare.

The U.S. House approved a bill in February 2022 that does just that. The bill caps cost-sharing under private health insurance for a month's supply of selected insulin products at $35 or 25% of a plan's negotiated price (after any price concessions), whichever is less, beginning in 2023.

Michigan U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D — Flint, said the rising cost of insulin and other drugs is proving to be a financial burden on patients.

"As a father of a Type 1 diabetic, I have seen firsthand how the high price of prescription drugs like insulin can harm patients and harm families," Kildee, one of the bill's sponsors, said on the House floor before the vote. "When my daughter turned 26 and got her own health insurance, there were months where she spent a third of her take-home pay — because she’s diabetic — on staying alive."

Kildee urges the U.S. Senate to pass the bill in a June 21 Tweet.

"No one should ever be forced to ration their insulin," Kildee wrote. "My bill to cap the cost of insulin at $35 per month passed the House. Americans can’t afford to wait any longer. The Senate must act now and help lower the cost of this necessary lifesaving medication."

Additionally, the Senate is pursuing a bipartisan agreement on a similar measure.

Unwilling to wait for federal action, 16 states across the country, starting with Colorado in 2019, enacted caps on insulin co-pays, ranging from $25 to $100 a month for consumers with commercial health insurance.

Eight more states are considering similar legislation, including Michigan. 

On Feb. 24, 2021, Michigan State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D — Marquette, introduced a bill that would cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $50 a month.

A copay cap provides some consumer relief, but Cambensy acknowledged it wouldn’t "get to the root bottom" where manufacturers set prices. Three drug companies dominate the production of insulin.