'Caravan' of Americans Crossing Canadian Border for Affordable Medical Care
A "caravan" of Americans living with Type 1 Diabetes made their way across the U.S. border into Canada over the weekend in search of affordable medical care in a country where they can get the "exact same" life-saving products for a dramatically lower price. "We're on a because the USA charges astronomical prices for insulin that most people can't afford," tweeted one caravan member, Quinn Nystrom, as she shared updates on the journey.
Nystrom was among a group of Minnesotans who piled into cars on Friday to make the 600-mile journey from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to Fort Frances in Ontario, Canada, where she said insulin, the hormone patients with Type 1 Diabetes rely on to regulate their blood glucose levels, can be bought for a tenth of what it costs in the U.S. The "caravan" was organized as part of a campaign launched under the banner "#insulinforall" to call on the U.S. government to regulate the cost of life-saving drugs, including insulin, and make medication affordable for anyone who needs it. Branding the cost of insulin in the U.S. a "price crisis," the group noted on its website that since the mid-1990s, the pricetag on insulin in America has skyrocketed more than 1,100 percent, according to data from Truven Health Analytics, despite the cost of production for a vial of analog insulin costing less than $10.
Meanwhile, a recently released report ordered by Democratic Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, found that millions of Americans who rely on insulin are paying up to 92 percent more for the life-saving medication than patients in other countries.
Posting a photo of a Walgreens pharmacy store on the caravan's journey to Canada, Nystrom wrote that the group "could've ended our in 5 minutes, but unfortunately, they charge $300 for insulin. So, we will travel another 5 hours north so we will only have to pay $30 for a vial of insulin." In addition to paying exorbitant prices for insulin in the U.S., Nystrom told local news station KARE 11 that she also pays $380 a month for her health insurance premium and doesn't see her insulin costs reduced until she reaches the $2,800 deductible. By the end of the year, Nystrom said, the price she pays out of pocket for treating her diabetes comes to as much as $7,800.
Lija Greenseid, whose daughter lives with Type 1 diabetes, told KARE 11 that she first realized just how vast the difference between the cost of insulin in the U.S. compared to Canada was while on a family vacation there a few years ago, when her daughter needed an emergency supply. Not only was the cost of insulin dramatically lower, Greenseid said, but gaining access to the type of insulin her daughter needed was also significantly easier—a realization that brought the mother to the point of tears. "It took me 11 days and 15 phone calls to get insulin this year," Greenseid said. "Insurance no longer covers the type of insulin that she would use if her insulin pump were to fail. In Canada, the pharmacist is happy to sell me whatever type I want." "I started tearing up," Greenseid said, before sharing how the pharmacist in Canada had questioned how the U.S. could allow drug companies to charge so much for insulin when "people need it to live." "It was very emotional for me," the mother said.
While the FDA has cautioned against traveling outside of the U.S. to buy insulin as it cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of drugs sold outside the country, Nystrom said she had zero concerns. "Let me tell you, I'm going to inject this medication into my body and you will not be seeing a death certificate," she told KARE 11. "It's the exact same insulin."
In recent weeks, lawmakers have been drawing more attention to the skyrocketing costs of drugs like insulin, as soaring prescription drug costs continue to be a top voter concern in polls.