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Walmart is introducing low-cost insulin as more and more people with diabetes struggle to pay for drugs

More than 34 million people in the US have diabetes, and the annual cost of insulin for people with type 1 diabetes is at least $ 5,700 a year. Walmart said Tuesday it would offer a cheaper version of insulin that might fit better into the budgets of millions of Americans who are uninsured or struggling to pay for life-saving diabetes drugs.

Starting this week, the retailer will sell an exclusive private label version of the insulin analog ReliOn NovoLog to adults and children with prescriptions. The drug will be available in mid-July from Sam’s Club, which has a membership. Insulin costs about $ 73 for a bottle or about $ 86 for a pack of pre-filled insulin pens.

Insulin is the latest addition to Walmart’s own diabetes product brand ReliOn. It already sells an inexpensive version of insulin for about $ 25 as part of the line, but that’s an older formula that some doctors and proponents say isn’t as effective at controlling blood sugar fluctuations as the versions called analogs.

With the move, Walmart will shift its longstanding “low price” focus on a drug that is a medical necessity for a growing number of Americans. More than 34 million people in the US, or nearly 11 percent of the population, have diabetes, and about 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed each year, according to the American Diabetes Association. That percentage is about 14 percent among Walmart buyers, Warren Moore, Walmart’s vice president of health and wellness, said in a call.
As the number of people with diabetes rises, the cost of the 100-year-old drug has skyrocketed rather than decreased and has put lawmakers to the test. The annual cost of insulin for people with type 1 diabetes in the United States has nearly doubled from $ 2,900 in 2012 to $ 5,700 in 2016, according to the latest available data from the Health Care Cost Institute. Some of the major insulin manufacturers, including Sanofi and Eli Lilly, were questioned by politicians at congressional hearings about raising prices for the critical drug. In some cases, companies have responded to the criticism by implementing limited programs at reduced prices.

Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s executive vice president of Health and Wellness, said Walmart’s version of the drug will expand access to health care by lowering the typical price and making insulin analogs available to more people. He said Walmart worked directly with manufacturer Novo Nordisk to cut costs. The price difference to brand competitors will be up to $ 101 per bottle of insulin or up to $ 251 per pack of pre-filled insulin pens, Pegus said.
“We hope this price will improve and hopefully revolutionize the accessibility and affordability of insulin,” he said in a call to reporters. “We know that many people with diabetes have difficulty managing this chronic condition because of the financial burden they have.”

Walmart, already the largest grocery store and employer in the country, has made a major foray into the healthcare sector to open up its massive reach to other money-making opportunities. He has opened 20 affordable health care clinics in addition to his businesses, such as annual checkups for $ 30 or teeth cleaning for $ 25. He bought a telemedicine company, MeMD, for an undisclosed amount in May to provide virtual delivery. And it has driven the pharmaceutical industry on price before it has started a prescription program that sells monthly supplies of many widely used generic drugs for $ 4.

However, the retail giant is entering a complex industry that has stumbled upon other large and influential companies. Haven, a joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, was wound up earlier this year, roughly three years after the companies announced they would end healthcare with lower costs and better results.

Walmart has lost some of the key talent it has recruited to guide and grow its health and wellness efforts, including Sean Slovenski, former senior vice president of health and wellness at Walmart; and Dr. Tom Van Gilder, who had become their first full-time medical director.

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