Did you know you can get insulin at Walmart for $25 a vial?
For many Americans who can’t afford their insulin-especially those who are uninsured or have high-deductible insurance plans-prices like this can save their lives.
Americans Pay More For Insulin Than Any Other Developed Country
Chew on this. The price for one vial of Eli Lilly’s Humalog went from $35 in 2001 to $234 in 2015. From 2013 to 2019, Novo Nordisk’s Novolog jumped from $289 to $540 and Sanofi’s Lantus from $244 to $431. The pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have no problem killing people as long as their profit margins continue to soar.
And boy do they fly. According to a BBC report, the pharmaceutical industry boasts the largest profit margins of any other major industry in the U.S. including banks, carmakers, oil/gas, and the media. In 2013, Pfizer attained an astonishing 42% profit margin.
We can’t lay the blame entirely on the pharmaceutical and PBM industries. Our lawmakers are just as guilty as they are for not protecting us from these egregious, unethical practices in the first place.
It’s no wonder so many Americans are forced to go without their insulin (and die) or purchase it from other countries such as Canada and Mexico.
In my opinion, Walmart is certainly a justifiable option to purchase more affordable insulin. And you don’t have to cross the border to get there.
Human Insulin vs Analog Insulin
There are two basic forms of insulin on the market today-analog and human.
Analog insulins, introduced in the 1990s, were designed to be more rapid-acting than human insulin and be more effective at preventing fluctuations in blood sugar in patients with Type 1 diabetes.
According to a Cochrane review, short-acting insulin analogs are slightly better than regular human insulin regarding long-term blood sugar control and episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in people with Type 1 diabetes. (The authors of this review do caution that more studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions about the effects of short-acting insulin analogs on long-term patient outcomes).
An advantage of analog insulin is that they can be injected immediately before meals and may lead to lower blood sugar levels after eating. Planning meals can be a little more tricky if you take human insulin as these must be injected around 30-45 minutes before meals.
For these reasons, many providers now routinely prescribe analog insulins over human insulins (for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics).
As you may have guessed, analog insulins are much more expensive than human insulins.
Walmart Insulin Explained
The $25 vials sold at Walmart are human insulins. They are manufactured by Novo Nordisk under the brand name Novolin ReliOn. Novolin insulins are also available at a reduced price from other pharmacies such as CVS, Target, and Costco.
The three types of Novolin human insulins available at a discount are:
- Novolin R is short-acting, regular insulin. Its comparable analog insulins are lispro, aspart and glulisine.
- Novolin N is intermediate-acting. Its comparable analog insulins are glargine and detemir.
- Novolin 70/30 is a combination of Novolin R and Novolin N.
You don’t need a prescription for Novolin insulins at Walmart (and a few other pharmacies) but you can’t just grab them off the shelf. You have to consult with a pharmacist who will then need to verify with your provider that these insulins are appropriate for you.
Do Human Insulins Work?
Up until the 1990s, when analog insulins were introduced, millions of people with diabetes effectively managed their blood sugar with human insulins. They had no other choice.
Today, many providers agree that analog insulins are the preferred choice for Type 1 diabetics and Type 2 diabetics who experience frequent nighttime hypoglycemia. But there are plenty of people, with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, who manage their blood sugar levels safely and adequately with human insulin.
Some medical providers have very strong opinions on whether or not analog insulins are truly superior to human insulins. If you’re interested in reading two such debates, check out these articles:
I believe all doctors, nurses and diabetes educators will concede that using human insulin is better than using no insulin at all.
How To Take Human Insulin Safely
The main reason most folks opt to purchase human insulin from Walmart is the more affordable price tag. If you can’t afford analog insulins, talk to your provider. Let her know if you’re having trouble paying for your medications.
Never start a new insulin regimen without first consulting with the person who helps you manage your diabetes.
If you decide to take human insulin instead of analog insulin, here’s what you need to do:
- Get very clear, written instructions from your provider or diabetes educator on how to take human insulins.
- Meet with a dietician or nutritionist who specializes in diabetes. A proper diet is an imperative component of properly managing diabetes. And you need to know exactly how to take human insulin around your meals.
- Let your provider know right away if you’re experiencing frequent episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
I’ll leave you with this final thought. Never be embarrassed if you can’t pay for your insulin (or any medical care). Prices of drugs and medical services are so grossly inflated that hardly anyone can afford them. The healthcare industry, as a whole, price gouges like hell and then goes as far as to sue you if you can’t pay their outrageous, exorbitant, unfair, unethical prices. Even those of us with so-called ‘top-tier’ insurance can find ourselves out-of-pocket thousands of dollars from just one encounter in the healthcare system.
Until our lawmakers step up to the plate and protect us, we have to do what we can to defend ourselves.
- Analog insulins are typically preferred for Type 1 diabetics and Type 2 diabetics who experience frequent nighttime hypoglycemia. However, blood sugar levels can usually be successfully managed with human insulin if taken precisely as instructed by your provider or diabetes educator.
- Walmart sells 3 types of human insulin ‘behind-the-counter’ for around $25 a vial.
- Never start a new insulin regimen without consulting with your provider or diabetes educator.
- Don’t forget that diet is just as important as insulin or other medications in managing your diabetes.
I hope this has helped you understand a little more about human insulin and your option for purchasing it at a lower price from Walmart and other pharmacies.
Have a question for me? Or want to share your experiences with the healthcare system? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d love to hear from you!