Americans Are Heading To Canada In Droves For More Affordable Insulin

by Cassandra Stone
Originally Published: 

Insulin prices in the U.S. are 11 times more expensive than in Canada

According to CDC reports, about 5% of the U.S. population have Type I diabetes, and although it can affect adults too, it is usually first diagnosed in children and young adults. That’s 7.5 million Americans who rely on insulin to stay alive. With price of insulin being what it is — extremely overpriced — in the United States, many people are heading to Canada for more affordable insulin.

CBS News reports that from 2012 to 2016, the price of insulin nearly doubled in the U.S. A person with Type I diabetes racked up an annual insulin cost of $5,705, on average, in 2016. The average cost was roughly $2,864 per patient back in 2012. Either way, it’s astronomical.

Which is why a caravan of a dozen Americans embarked for Canada last weekend to buy the life-saving drug at a much affordable rate. “For us, insulin is like air – it’s like oxygen, we need it,” said Deb Souther, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 46 years. Souther tells CBS News that she uses three vials of insulin per month and that even with insurance, she’s paying more than $700 a month for medicine she would die without.

Souther and the rest of the caravan heading to Canada took a bus from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to London, Ontario — which is an 817-mile drive. That doesn’t count the travel time and expense for those who had to drive from beyond Minneapolis to get there.

The woman who coordinated the trip, Quinn Nystrom, explains the reality of getting diagnosed with Type I diabetes in America. “Getting diagnosed today in 2019 in America with type 1 diabetes – it is a death sentence for some people,” she said.

For comparison: one vial of insulin costs just $30 in Canada. In the United States? It costs $340. It’s the exact same drug — it’s just a matter of where it’s sold.

Right now, 1 in 4 diabetics are rationing their insulin in the U.S. And many are simply going without it until they can get the funds to cover their medication, or until their insurance kicks in. This is a dangerous, life-threatening thing to do. For a Type I diabetic, going a few days without insulin can result in harm to your eyes, lungs, kidneys, and heart. It can also harden your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack and strokes.

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin. It causes the blood sugar to rise so high that your blood becomes highly acidic, dehydrating your cells, and ultimately leads your body to stop functioning altogether.

People die when they cannot afford the insulin they need.

The only reason insulin is cheaper in Canada is because their health care system is public — as in, not a broken and for-profit mess like the U.S. Drugmakers negotiate costs directly with private insurance companies in the U.S. — which means if you don’t have insurance here, you pay list price.

Some states have taken strides to make insulin more affordable. In Florida, a law was passed that allows large batches of insulin to be legally imported from Canada into the state. Colorado has capped insulin costs at $100 per monthly supply. But still, it’s not enough. People are in crisis, and we need to take care of them.

One of the three drug companies that make insulin, Novo Nordisk, tells CBS News in a statement that “we recognize that our healthcare system is broken … we know more must be done to ensure insulin affordability and we are committed to being part of the solution.”

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