Insulin has been all over the news lately with its soaring costs. Insulin prices have tripled over the past decade, rising so high that people are paying up to $1,000 or more per month or more on insulin.
Recently, Republican Representative Jeremy Munson of Minnesota posted a video on social media touting the low prices and ease of acquiring Walmart insulin. Democratic Representative and MD Alice Mann quickly came back with retorts saying his post was “grossly irresponsible.”
Why? There are a lot of differences between cheaper human insulin and newer synthetic analog insulins. There are many layers to the situation, and dangers involved.
Yes, it’s true you can get “Walmart insulin” (Novo Nordisk’s Novolin ReliOn Insulin) for around $25 a vial at Walmart without a prescription. But that’s just the surface of the situation.
Walmart insulin vs. analog insulin
Human insulin available at Walmart became available in the early 1980s. The newer more updated analog insulin came out in the late 1990s. It’s faster-acting and makes it easier to manage blood sugar levels throughout the day.
The older insulin is fine to use in some cases, but it works very differently in the body; it’s important to take extra care when switching from analog insulin. Though human insulin is available without a prescription, patients would need to see a doctor to calculate their correct dose. It’s dangerous for patients to try to calculate doses on their own. Also, Walmart insulin is only available as injectable insulin and not for an insulin pen or pump.
Drawbacks of Walmart insulin
- Is a different form of insulin that works differently in the body
- Takes longer to metabolize and take effect
- Does not last as long
- Requires you to eat meals on a strict schedule (especially for children)
- Requires insulin injections
- Makes it harder to measure the correct insulin dose
- Affects quality of life and ability to work
- Increases risk of dangerous blood sugar lows and even death
- Is associated with worse blood glucose control than with newer analog insulin
There is legislation in the works to bring down the cost of insulin, but nothing has been passed yet on the national level. Many large insulin providers have announced caps on insulin prices, but these measures are simply a band-aid on a larger problem.