Walmart Does Non-Evil Thing, Congratulations Walmart!

Walmart Does Non-Evil Thing, Congratulations Walmart!

Right now, there are approximately 10,000 listings mentioning insulin on GoFundMe, because insulin, a thing a whole lot of people will die without, is absurdly expensive. Well, absurdly expensive in the United States, anyway — just like most other medications. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one, really, is that we're the nouveau riche suckers who will pay retail while every other country pays wholesale. I am told that this is because we need to fund pharmaceutical innovation, and that those of us who don't want to go broke from medical bills are disgusting spoiled brats who don't understand "the real world," who also want ponies and probably don't want to pay 45,000 times the median price for those either.

Ponies, for the record, are far less expensive than a year's worth of insulin. A really nice pony will cost you about $1000 and about $2400 a year in upkeep, whereas the Health Cost Institute reports that insulin for a person with Type 1 diabetes, covered by employer-sponsored healthcare, will cost over $5700.

Of course, the main difference between ponies and insulin is that rationing ponies will not actually kill you.

While we aspiring equestrians would obviously love it if we could lower insulin prices by negotiating prices with a socialized health care system or even through price regulation that prohibits companies from charging us more than the median price for medications, we are happy to take what we can get. And what we can get, it turns out, is Walmart.

This week, the otherwise evil Walmart announced it would be selling a generic insulin analog, ReliOn NovoLog, for $73 per vial and $86 for a package of insulin pens. This, while still not as little as what people in other countries are paying, is between one-quarter and one-half the price of what Americans are paying now (which is $134 to $300 per vial, depending on the manufacturer), so we'll take it.

Now some people are probably thinking, "Uh, I actually heard that Walmart has been selling $25 insulin for years now, what's the big deal?" The big deal is that the $25 insulin is an older human insulin and is actually pretty dangerous to use and requires precision timing because it doesn't absorb as fast as the analog insulins. This can cause strokes, comas and other serious health issues, particularly for those with Type 1 diabetes.


Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart's executive vice president of health and wellness, said Walmart's version of the drug will expand access to care as it undercuts the typical price and puts analog insulin within reach of more people. She said Walmart worked directly with manufacturer Novo Nordisk to reduce costs. The price difference with branded competitors will be as much as $101 per vial of insulin or up to $251 per pack of prefilled insulin pens, Pegus said.

"This price point, we hope, will improve and hopefully revolutionize the accessibility and affordability of insulin," she said on a call with reporters. "We know that many people with diabetes struggle to manage this chronic condition because of its financial burden."

In response, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly said that they are now inspired to look at their own prices and look for ways to reduce them. In an appearance on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," CEO David Ricks said the company's leaders "welcome anyone who wants to lower the price of insulin."

"We always look at new solutions ourselves, and this is an interesting development and we'll look at further options," Ricks said. "If we can reach one more patient with more affordable insulin, we're going to try to do that."

Oh, how will they ever manage that?

Wholesale cost of insulin vs. US retail costSource:

Cost per unit in other countries vs. the USSource: RAND Corporation

Walmart isn't doing anything magical here, they're just lowering the price, and not even making it as low as it is in other countries.

The line, generally, is that Americans have to pay exorbitant prices to make up for the fact that other countries are paying less, because the pharmaceutical companies need that money to fund "innovation," just like we have to pay exorbitant prices for other medical care because medical school is so expensive and doctors also have to pay for malpractice insurance, and we have to pay a ton for health insurance because health insurance companies have to pay the people whose job it is to tell us they won't be covering whatever it is we need to have done, and if we didn't pay so much for these things, we'd never get any new medications, no one would become a doctor, and the people who worked hard for that health insurance would be personally insulted.

The fact is, we don't have to do any of this. It's more that a majority of Americans just really want to and pharmaceutical companies are obliging. But it's nice of Walmart to offer an option for those who don't, at least in one particular area. Now if they'd just stop union-busting so their employees could afford even their cheaper version of insulin, that would be super great.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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