Walmart to offer own low-cost brand of insulin

Walmart on Tuesday announced the launch of a new brand of analog insulin that will come at a much cheaper price for patients without insurance who need to pay out of pocket for the lifesaving drug.

The retail giant said it is teaming with Novo Nordisk to sell an exclusive version of insulin through Walmart’s private ReliOn brand, in an effort to grow its health offerings.

By working directly with the manufacturer, Walmart aims to undercut the existing price point on insulin that has been widely criticized. More than 34 million Americans have diabetes.

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The drug will be available in Walmart pharmacies this week, and Sam’s Club pharmacies in mid-July across the United States, the company said.

Customers will need a prescription in order to purchase the products, which will cost about $73 for a vial or about $86 for a package of prefilled insulin pens.

The price will represent a savings of as much as $101 per vial of insulin or up to $251 per pack of prefilled insulin pens, the company said.

"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. We also know this is a condition that disproportionately impacts underserved populations," Cheryl Pegus, Walmart's executive vice president of health and wellness, said in a statement.

Three companies  Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk  control 99 percent of the world's insulin, and the price has skyrocketed, especially in the past two decades.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013 and then nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016.

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Insulin has not changed much since it was discovered 100 years ago, but it can cost Americans thousands of dollars a year.

The price hikes have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers in both the House and Senate, and company executives have faced bipartisan grilling.

A bipartisan Senate report issued early last year report found that Novo Nordisk and Sanofi would closely monitor the other's prices and match or top any price increases, sometimes within hours or days of each other.