A major illness just became less devastating to your bank account.
Walmart has announced a new private brand of analog insulin, the first of its kind, designed to overcome common impediments, like affordability of and access to diabetes care, especially for those without health insurance, according to a Tuesday press release shared on the company's official website.
The new plan went into effect this week, and includes FexPen, which goes for $85.88, and analog insulin vials, sold at $72.88. Both products are only available through Walmart's proprietary ReliOn brand, and could save customers up to $101 per vial or $251 per package of FlexPens — a savings of 58% to 75% — read the press release.
In other words, treating diabetes just got a lot cheaper.
Walmart undercuts existing insulin prices
This marks the latest addition to Walmart's growing brand of diabetes products, after an already available lower-price insulin supplement that sells for $25. But some advocates and doctors say this earlier iteration may not be adequately effective at managing blood sugar levels when compared to newer types of insulin, called "analogs", according to a CNBC report.
This makes Walmart a major provider of a drug more Americans need than ever before. As of writing, more than 34 million people in the country (11%) suffer from diabetes, with an additional 1.5 million diagnosed within the United States every year, according to the American Diabetes Association. Of them, 14% shop at Walmart, said Vice President Warren Moore of Walmart's health and wellness department, on a call with CNBC. In the coming years, health officials expect the number of people with diabetes to increase, which has already created a surge in the price of the century-old drug. Needless to say, lawmakers are not happy about it.
People with Type 1 diabetes in the U.S. had to dish out $5,700 per year in 2016, up from $2,600 in 2012, according to data from the Health Care Cost Institute. In response to mounting criticism from lawmakers amid congressional hearings for price hikes of the critical drug, some insulin makers have offered reduced-price programs for limited customers. Considering this most urgent market need, Walmart's new offering aims to undercut existing prices for analog insulin, and make it more accessible to people who can't afford pricey health insurance deductibles.
Walmart's health care empire is expanding
"The price point, we hope, will improve and hopefully revolutionize the accessibility and affordability of insulin," said Walmart's Executive Vice President Cheryl Pegus of the company's health and wellness department, according to the report. "We know that many people with diabetes struggle to manage this chronic condition because of its financial burden." But this isn't to say Walmart's intentions are purely philanthropic. The company is already the largest grocer and employer in the U.S., and has forged its health care brands into the market to grow its already colossal reach. So far, it's opened 20 clinics adjacent to its stores with budget-level medical care, including $25 dental cleanings, and $30 annual checkups.
Walmart even bought a telehealth company called MeMD in May to offer virtual care, and has exerted pressure on the entire pharmaceuticals industry before sending its prescription program to market, which provides monthly supplies of ubiquitous generic drugs for wildly low prices of $4. This is great news for people with diabetes throughout the U.S., not only because of the growing issue of price hikes for insulin, but also especially because of the cataclysmic economic downturn that affected low-income people more than anyone else amid the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. It's not free health care, but it's better than nothing.