The term “Walmart Insulin” has always referred to cheap, older formulations. But now an agreement with Novo Nordisk means Walmart is selling own branded version of Novolog. It’s the very same insulin, with a much lower cash price.
What does this mean for us as customers and for insulin pricing overall? Stacey speaks to Michael Burke, Walmart’s Director of Brand Pharmacy Merchandising. They talk about who can get Relion Novolog, how much it costs, what your endo needs to know and how insurers are reacting.
LA Times article Stacey mentions
Dear Dr. Banting (we need your voice!)
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Episode transcription below
Stacey Simms 0:00
Diabetes Connections is brought to you by Dario health. Manage your blood glucose levels increase your possibilities by Gvoke Hypopen the first premix auto injector for very low blood sugar and by Dexcom take control of your diabetes and live life to the fullest with Dexcom.
This is Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.
This week, the term Walmart insulin has always referred to cheap, older formulations until this summer, a new agreement with Novo Nordisk means Walmart is selling its own branded version of Novolog.
Michael Burke 0:38
real sense of pride for us at Walmart to hear the great feedback. Our pharmacists and pharmacy teams are very excited about the product and how they can help support patients.
Stacey Simms 0:50
That’s Michael Burke, Director of brand pharmacy merchandising for Walmart. We’ll talk about who couldn’t get this, how much it costs. Why now and what’s next.
This podcast is not intended as medical advice. If you have those kinds of questions, please contact your health care provider.
Welcome to another week of the show. I am your host, Stacey Simms, and we aim to educate and inspire about diabetes with a focus on people who use insulin. My son was diagnosed right before he turned two back in 2006. And my husband lives with type two diabetes. I don’t have diabetes, but I spent my career in broadcasting and that is how you get the podcast
earlier this summer. As many of you probably remember, Walmart announced its new agreement with Novo Nordisk it is selling the same insulin that they make under the Walmart brand. So it’s called ReliOn Novolog. And it’s sold at Walmart and at Sam’s clubs. This is not the older $25 so called Walmart insulin that includes older versions such as regular and NPH, which can be used safely if you know what you’re doing very rarely used in pumps, and very rarely prescribed as a matter of routine. They’re not the standard of care for modern day diabetes. But people do certainly use what many of you refer to as Walmart insulin, they still do use regular and NPH. But the vast majority of people who probably listen to this podcast and are regularly seeing an endocrinologist and have been diagnosed, let’s say within the last 30 years are probably using novolog, humalog, And the the newer, you know, faster acting insulins. So because Walmart is selling novolog, we might have to change what we mean when we say Walmart, insulin.
And now that the dust has settled a bit, I thought it would be a good idea to find out how it’s going and what it really means for people who use insulin. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s changed the marketplace a lot. What it did prove, at least to me is that the retail price of insulin with or without insurance is as arbitrary, as most of us suspected. I mean, pardon my cynicism here. I do appreciate the folks from Walmart coming on to talk about this. And I appreciate that they’re doing something I’m sure this new pricing will help some it is $73 though for a vial when the estimated cost of producing that vial is maybe four to $6. So it is still quite high. And that is the cash price. By the way with insurance as you’ll hear it is likely a lot lower. So going in, please know and most of you already know this bottom line, ask your doctor, Ask your pharmacist, make sure you are getting the insulin that costs the least for you according to whatever plan you have.
There are so many hoops to jump through to ensure this if you don’t have great insurance, you may want to go to get insulin.org that’s a clearinghouse put on by beyond type one. And all it really does is bring all the coupon programs together. So it’s one place where you can find out what you can get get insulin.org I will link that up in the show notes. We used it because as you’ll hear in the interview, and I’ve shared this before, our current insurance does not cover the insulin that my son uses and wants to keep using and we needed to use coupons for that it did help us if you’re struggling if you can’t find these resources post in the Diabetes Connections Facebook group, you’re more than welcome. We have a lot of great people who can help you figure this out. But you know, do what you need to do. as frustrating as it may be. Don’t ration your insulin if you if you can possibly help it. I know that sounds ridiculous to even say that. But look, one in four people in this country do ration their insulin. So maybe there’s something that we can do to kind of help you. As I said, jump through those hoops.
Alright, Michael Burke, Director of brand pharmacy merchandising in just a moment, but first Diabetes Connections is brought to you by Dario health and we first noticed Dario a couple of years ago at a conference, Benny thought being able to turn your smartphone into a meter was pretty amazing. And I’m excited to tell you that Dario offers even more now. The Dario diabetes success plan gives you all the supplies and support you need to succeed. You’ll get a glucometer that fits in your pocket unlimited test strips and lancets delivered to your door and a mobile app with a complete view of your data. The plan is tailored for you With coaching when and how you need it and personalized reports based on your activity, find out more, go to my dario.com forward slash diabetes dash connections.
Michael, thanks for joining me a lot of information to get through and I appreciate you coming on. Thank you so much for having me. Let’s just start with kind of an explanation, if you wouldn’t mind, take us through what Walmart is doing here, what’s the new version of insulin that Walmart is selling,
Michael Burke 5:28
we have recently launched analog insulins we can get into here in a second, the difference there, but it’s an extension of our current line of insulin. So the insulin that we’ve had at Walmart for some time now is the human insulin, or the novolin products, our extension and new launch now is an analogue insulin, which are the newest version of fast acting insulin, and can help better regulate someone’s blood glucose levels, very excited that we were able to get into this. It’s been a large topic in the industry for a while on why we were just at human insulin as a private brand offering, and what more we could do so very excited that we got into the analog insulin, as it is the insulin to be used for a type one diabetic, and preferred in most cases and type twos.
Stacey Simms 6:19
Can you share a little bit about what happened here? Because this isn’t something that Walmart could just do, right? This is a version of Novolog. I mean, this is an agreement with Novo Nordisk, can you kind of take us through what the process?
Michael Burke 6:30
Yeah, so we have had a long standing relationship with novo, they are the manufacturer of our human insulin, the Novolin ReliOn products that we’ve had on the market. And so with the changes of recent in the industry and a real focus, I’d say from across the board, from legislation to patient advocacy to patients, manufacturers, to pharmacies, to prescribers. There’s been a large focus over the last two years on what more can be done in the space and so it allowed us an opportunity to work with novo and expand what we already had on the market is a private brand offering and bring a new private brand and new ReliOn offering in the Nova log in Nova log mix, both in a flex 10 and vile and offer a lower cost option for patients who had struggled with affordability to this point.
Stacey Simms 7:24
This is a branded insulin so you get ReliOn a brand novolog only at Walmart, am I Is that right? Is that how it works?
Michael Burke 7:32
Yes. So like everything healthcare, it’s got to be confusing, right. So novolog is the branded name. That is the FDA filed and and trademarked products from Novo Nordisk. What we have done is partnered with Novo Nordisk to launch a ReliOn novolog and to ReliOn novolog MCs, same product manufactured by Novo Nordisk manufactured here actually in the US and comes off the same production lines is the same insulin, the difference being that it is branded with Walmart’s private brand of ReliOn which enables us to bring that in house to self distribute to our stores help support our customers. So it offers us the opportunity to cut out some of the middlemen lower the cost, but still the same great product manufactured by Novo Nordisk still the same as their branded Nova log and Nova log mixes, just with a private brand twist from Walmart.
Stacey Simms 8:33
So this was announced in late June, as I remember, how has it been? Is it out now are people able to purchase it? What what’s the roll up in like
Michael Burke 8:42
it is. So we started with the novolog vials and the Nova logs mix in our ReliOn brand, or sorry, the Nova log vials and the Nova log flex pins in our private brand of ReliOn. And then this last month, we were able to launch the mix in ReliOn flex pins and vials. So the regular novolog has been out a little bit longer. We’re seeing really good traction, cut wonderful feedback from from patients, prescribers, various members of the industry, and has been really good reaction to this point, have a real sense of pride for us at Walmart to hear the great feedback. Our pharmacists and pharmacy teams are very excited about the product and how they can help support patients. We’ve heard lots of testimonials on where we’ve been able to save patients money and where patients were able to come to us and afford their insulin and not make different choices. And so it’s for us been it’s been wonderful since launch. Now. We’re gonna keep that momentum going and make sure that we’re reaching as many patients as we can and providing as much value and access as we possibly can in the insulin space.
Stacey Simms 9:50
It’s some interesting questions for my listeners, if I could bring them to you. And the first one was, is there a limit to the amount that you can purchase per person per A month,
Michael Burke 10:00
there is not so these products, the newest launch the lion novolog and ReliOn Nova log MCs are prescription required. So as long as there’s a valid prescription, there is no minimum or maximum that a patient can get dispensed at a time, a little bit different than our human insulin, which did have some limits on how much you could purchase at a time without a prescription, just due to some varying risks in an inability to keep in stock.
Stacey Simms 10:29
You’ve mentioned the mix a couple times what is the mix
Michael Burke 10:32
of it’s a 7030 mix of analog insulin. So it’s a fast and intermediate acting. And so for some patients, it is a better way to manage some of their peaks and valleys is to use an analog mixed insulin rather than just a single type of analog insulin and fast acting.
Stacey Simms 10:52
Is there is that again, pardon my ignorance is there isn’t there a 7030 human insulin This is different or this is
Michael Burke 10:57
there is Yes, okay, insulin is a bit of a rabbit hole in the various types of insulin There are also mixes within them. So there are also long acting insulins. And there’s some mixes in long acting or the parental insulin, their seeming insulin, which were the original insulins on the market that have mixes as well, and the analog insulin had mixes. And it’s really just helped provide variety for patients and prescribers, that may not be seeing the right results with a single insulin, sometimes mix. Depending on what type of mix it is, is more beneficial and in lowering blood glucose, maintain the proper levels. Sometimes it’s helpful in some patients without peaks and valleys. And I struggle with that
Stacey Simms 11:41
I just didn’t realize it’s my ignorance, I didn’t realize that there was a 7030 analog. Alright, another question from the group. And another question, are they going to encourage providers to prescribe? Or is this solely an option for people with high deductible plans slash no insurance.
Michael Burke 11:57
So wherever there was a prescription, we will process whatever type of insurance where our goal is to have the lowest cost for a patient we possibly can. So may that be on our private brand insulin Navy on a brand or a different branded insulin? Every time a prescription comes to the pharmacy, we we do our best to make sure that we’re going to give the lowest price. So our branded insulin continue to have some coverage today, our private brand does as well. So best opportunities is for patients to work with our pharmacy teams and make sure that they’re getting the right Insulet at the lowest cost possible for them.
Stacey Simms 12:30
So I’m going to ask you a question you may not be able to answer and that’s fine. But for clarification, so my son, our insurance currently covers novolog and doesn’t like he doesn’t prefer it. So if I were to get a prescription and go to Walmart, would my doctor have to write it for novolog? Would they have to write it for ReliOn novolog? Would I have to know could I possibly be saving more money if my doctor knew about ReliOn or does the pharmacist look at this at Walmart and say oh you want Nova log but it’s gonna cost less if you use the ReliOn version
right back to Michael answering my question but first Diabetes Connections is brought to you by g Vogue hypo pen and you know low blood sugar feels horrible. You can get shaky and sweaty or even feel like you’re gonna pass out there are lots of symptoms and they can be different for everyone. I’m so glad we have a different option to treat very low blood sugar Jeeva hypo pen, it’s the first auto injector to treat very low blood sugar tchibo kaipa pen is pre mixed and ready to go with no visible needle before Jeeva people needed to go through a lot of steps to get glucagon treatments ready to be used. This made emergency situations even more challenging and stressful. This is so much better. I’m grateful we have it on hand, find out more go to Diabetes connections.com and click on the G book logo chivo shouldn’t be used in patients with pheochromocytoma or insulinoma. Visit chivo glucagon.com slash risk. Now back to Michael Burke answering my question about how much the pharmacist can do for you if you bring a regular old Nova log prescription to Walmart.
Michael Burke 14:10
Yes, for a no blog prescription or ReliOn Nova log private brand is interchangeable by the pharmacy or by the pharmacist. So a patient who has a current Nova log prescription or pharmacist can check to see if our private brands through insurance or other means would be a lower cost for that patient and can do that interchange themselves for those products so just know belong to our private brand over log. If a patient has a prescription for a another type of analog insulin that is not interchangeable with our private brand insulin. The pharmacist can verify insurance coverage for the patient and work with the prescriber on if it’s appropriate to switch to private branded Nova log or to remain on the inside there. On today, so we can interchange with the novolog branded products themselves. But for other products, there would be a conversation between the pharmacist patients and prescriber to make sure they’re getting the right insulin at the best cost for them.
Stacey Simms 15:15
Mike, you’re going to have to forgive me as we move forward, we’re going to start moving into more of a cynical part of the questions here, because as you’ve already alluded to problems is the rabbit hole. And we know I mentioned Nova log and human log, I mentioned that our insurance doesn’t like human log to the point where and I’ve shared this story in the show, my son has done really well with it for many years. So when we changed insurance, I did not want to change insulins. So we took a it took a long time and some fighting, but I was able to use the coupons for human log, and we get human log for about $35 a month for all of the insulin that my son needs, which would be less, I believe, then if I were to use my insurance coverage, and get novolog or ReliOn at Walmart, I still feel like even though this will save some people some money, it just kind of feels like we’re moving pieces around on the board. I guess my question would be for Walmart is how did you arrive at this price? Did you have to do you know? Did you have to set it a certain way to get the deal with novolog? This is gonna sound terrible. Do you throw darts at a board? I mean, who does for some people, it’s going to be more expensive than what they’re paying now. And I get some people will save money. But how did you come up with the price.
Michael Burke 16:29
So for us, we are one piece of the equation. As we’ve mentioned, healthcare is very complicated, especially the financial flows of healthcare. And so Walmart is one part of the financial equation as the dispensing pharmacy. We also have a distribution network and other assets that we utilize within Walmart. And so what we have done is taken all of our assets, tried to remove as many of the middlemen as possible. And put all of that back into the customer savings, customer pocket. We can’t control all the levers there are in healthcare, but where we can we put it right back into the customers price, we truly mean it and Walmart and especially Walmart, health and wellness of the lives better and save money, right? Save money live betters Walmart from from the core, that’s the only way that we could do so was was to take where we could remove some of the excess costs, and put it into that cash price, very complicated on the back end of who’s making what decisions on formulary, and additional savings and eligibility for manufacturer discounts and coupons and on down the line. We can’t control all of those. But what we can do is continue to take whatever we can out of that cost that inflation cost in the insulin and put it right back in to the cash price. And in that effort, hope to continue to drive down the overall cost of insulin to the marketplace.
Stacey Simms 18:06
Can you share? Is this an exclusive contract with Walmart? This was another question from one of my listeners, do you In other words, could other providers like Express Scripts? Or even Amazon You know, one of these folks that’s getting into the pharmaceutical, you know, medication supply side? Could this be a first step toward other people doing something similar or is this exclusive,
Michael Burke 18:27
so the ReliOn private brand and exclusive for Walmart, that is our our trademark brand at Walmart for insulin and diabetic supplies products. So others couldn’t utilize our ReliOn but we hope that this is part of other stepping up and and also looking to see how they can impact the space, how they can drive down costs. For us, it would be a great win if there was competition in the space. And we started to see insulin prices across the board come down because the competitive market only benefits the patients. And that’s what we’re looking to do. So we’d be happy if others were able to get in the game and figure out different ways to drive down costs for customers. Because at the end of the day, if there’s an affordability issue, we won’t be able to curb the growth of diabetes.
Stacey Simms 19:17
I’m curious, again, this this might be a ridiculous question. But with your answer in mind, do you have an agreement with novo in terms of how low you could get that cost? Because I mean, let’s be honest, if you knock the cost down, it’s set. What is it? 7288 per glass vial or 8588 for five flex pens, if you could knock that down to $35. I mean, you basically corner the market, no coupons or anything like that. Was that even discussed?
Michael Burke 19:44
Our focus is always on? How can we drive the lowest cost lowest price possible? We’ll continue to focus on that. Like I said, there’s only so many of the financial levers in healthcare that we own at Walmart and so we will continue to do our part To to take out everything we can from our end to make sure we’re driving down prices and costs. But we only own so many of the levers. So we continue to look to novo and other partners to help us continue to drive those prices down
Stacey Simms 20:15
with the pricing that I just mentioned a moment ago. Are any coupons accepted for that? If people have novolog coupons? Are they good for ReliOn novolog? Or is that something completely separate?
Michael Burke 20:26
Yeah, that’s completely separate. That’s for qualified programs for their branded product. We don’t have those Today, on our private brand product, what we continue to look at is, is how do we take the cost of those programs and put it right back into our pricing, because every day transparent, low prices, what we’re looking for, as you mentioned earlier, the different insurance coverage, and copay assistance and discount cards and manufacturer discounts on down the line just makes healthcare so complicated for the average patient. And so our goal is to not continue to build those additional steps and needs and trapdoors and not put that pressure on our patients to need to go out and hunt and find those. But rather continue to put that right back into our cash price and make sure that we’re offering as low as we can price on these insulins, in a transparent way, that that will continue to be our focus, just making this more complicated isn’t going to help patients with affordability, access, continue to simplify a very complicated healthcare arena, especially insulin is to the benefit of all of our partners.
Stacey Simms 21:44
Just to be clear, the end, the prices that I mentioned, is that someone who doesn’t have insurance, that’s just a cash price.
Michael Burke 21:51
Yes, that is that is our cash price. And that is the starting price. So if a patient has insurance, or different type of coverage, that we will process and see their eligibility and what their coverage will do, and where that will bring down the price. We’re seeing pretty good coverage so far since launch across the board. But you know that that continues to change. And as you said, there are different formularies and different pricing tiers out there. So that what we say is the highest you’re going to pay for that box and vile and those prices, but we’ll try to do everything we can to run insurance and check for every possible way to save money from those prices.
Stacey Simms 22:32
Here’s another question from my listeners, are there any plans to offer the in pen cartridges, which is a different product, then no, then flex pens,
Michael Burke 22:41
we don’t have that today, we continue to look in the space for for whatever we can can continue to offer and do but today, we do not have that as a as a product offering
Stacey Simms 22:51
any plans to do this with other insulins, you know, long acting or different brands or humalog or Tresiba. You know any other types of insulins that are out there,
Michael Burke 23:01
we continue to look for opportunities, kind of across the board, from our generic team to our specialty team to the branded team that I’m on, to figure out what are the best ways to save our customers money and make sure that they can be adherent to their medications. So I can say that we’ll continue to look at opportunities. Diabetes is obviously a growing issue in the United States. It continues to create barriers for our customers, our patients, our families. So we’ll continue to invest time and effort in the space and make sure we’re doing everything we can to do our part to help increase access, decreased costs and support our patients in their journey and diabetes.
Stacey Simms 23:42
I appreciate you taking on my questions. I mean, I know you hear the frustration in my voice and my listeners comments and questions, because it just seems and I can’t say this is Walmart’s responsibility. But it just seems like we’ve been told for years and years that you know, the price is because of research and, you know, development and and then to just suddenly say, Well, you know what, we don’t need to sell it for $300. We can sell it for 7288. It kind of seems absurd from where we all sit. And I know it’s complicated. And I guess there’s no question here, Mike, but I could just say to you, please, as you move forward, I know everybody needs to make money. I know that’s how the system is. But if Walmart really wants to, you know, improve lives, improve access, please keep pushing to lower the prices, because it does make a difference. One in four Americans is rationing insulin right now. And while this helps, it also points out how frankly broken the insulin pricing system is. So I appreciate you doing what you’re doing. And I appreciate you taking these questions on. And really just thanks for listening to me talk about that as well.
Michael Burke 24:44
Yeah, I appreciate your time. I appreciate you having me on. Like you said, we’re here as Walmart to continue to do our part. We’re invested in making our communities healthier, both from a customer standpoint and employee standpoint, community standpoint. So thanks for having me. I’m glad to talk to you I understand the frustration. I’ve lived in this world for a long time. So I’ve lived in the frustration, I feel it. I’m a pharmacist myself. And this has been a very complicated space that, quite frankly, we’d love to add some light to and make easier, make more affordable and continue to drive better outcomes for patients.
Stacey Simms 25:22
Mike, thank you so much.
Michael Burke 25:23
Appreciate you having me on and tell you we’ll continue to do our part.
You’re listening to Diabetes Connections with Stacey Simms.
Stacey Simms 25:38
More information at Diabetes connections.com. Of course, there’s a transcript along with each episode now. And I will link up more information about the Walmart program. I’m also going to link up a column I thought was fantastic. From the la times by David Lazarus. He wrote all about this earlier in the summer, when it first came out, he lives with type one, he gets it. And it’s an interesting look at the marketplace and what he thinks with Walmart entering what he thinks it shows about the price of insulin. He’s a great writer, I’d love to have on the show sometime. But I’ll link that up.
Alright. Diabetes Connections is brought to you by Dexcom. And you know, it is hard to remember what things were like before we started using Dexcom. I mean, I really haven’t forgotten, but I guess what I mean, it is so different. Now, when Benny was a toddler, we were doing something like 10 finger sticks a day. Even when he got older, we still did at least six to eight every day more when he wasn’t feeling well or something was off. But with each iteration of Dexcom. We’ve done fewer and fewer sticks. The latest generation the Dexcom g six eliminates finger sticks for calibration and diabetes treatment decisions. Just thinking about these little worn out fingertips makes me so glad that Dexcom has helped us come so far. It’s an incredible tool, and Benny’s fingertips are healthy and smooth, which I never thought would happen when he was in preschool. If your glucose alerts and readings from the G six do not match symptoms or expectations, use a blood glucose meter to make diabetes treatment decisions. learn more, go to Diabetes connections.com and click on the Dexcom logo.
Before I let you go, a couple of housekeeping things please send me your dear Dr. Banting audio if you have not heard me talk about this, I am collecting from you what you would say to Dr. Frederick Banting, the man credited with the discovery of insulin. Of course, there were many people helping him. But the Banting House Museum has an exhibit of print, dear Dr. Banting letters, I thought it’d be really fun to do an audio version. So let me know. I’m gonna link it up in the show notes. There’s a whole blog post on Diabetes connections.com, about how to do it’s very easy, just use your phone, but you got to get those three by the end of September.
And looking ahead, I’m doing a little bit of where are we going because we’re starting to go places again, a little bit here. And there. I’ve got some virtual and some in person stuff coming up Delta permitting. So the virtual stuff I’m really excited next Tuesday. So if you’re listening as this goes live, it was Tuesday, the 21st my JDRF local, but I think this is open to everybody nationally, and I’ll put this in the Facebook group JDRF is starting something for older people with type one and I say older very judiciously because I believe I’m in this group with not with the diabetes, but in the older. You know, basically there’s a lot of issues that people are facing as they hit, you know, middle age and older age. And it’s not just Medicare. I mean, you know, but there’s a lot of questions people with type one may have. And interestingly, I do a lot of research for this show my listenership very dedicated older folks. Again, I’m in this category now as I’m turning 50 in the month of October, but we’re interested in issues pertaining to type one in their health as they get older. So I’m doing all of this to say next Tuesday, the 21st jdrf has a an online event that you can join in, I’m going to be doing a little bit of my in the news for this group. But it’s going to be news that I have curated that is all to an older crowd. And I’m probably going to do it for 6065. And up I think that the the insurance, you know, cut off there makes perfect sense to try to find things that work for that group. But there is a Facebook group, I believe that they started as well. So more info on that.
And then later in October, we’ve got the shep podcasts conference out in Scottsdale, Arizona. That’s the other group that I take part in quite a bit. I’m helping them out. It’s women podcasters. Obviously, big group really excited to hang out with them. And we’ll see in terms of you know how many in person events happen in the weeks and months to come? Hopefully they start picking up again, but lots of virtual stuff going on as well. So if you want me to come speak to your group online or in person, please let me know. I’m always excited to do that. And we gear it to you know, whoever I’m talking to parents or adults with type one, whatever you need.
Thank you, as always to my editor John Bukenas from audio editing solutions. Thank you so much for listening. We’ve got in the news live on Facebook every Wednesday at 4:30pm. Eastern and then that becomes the in the news episode. You can listen to right here every Friday. So we’ll see you back here soon. Until then. Be kind to yourself.
Diabetes Connections is a production of Stacey Simms Media. All rights reserved. All wrongs avenged