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  • A photo of #insulin4all on the window of a car ready to take the trip to Canada to buy insulin

    A photo of #insulin4all on the window of a car ready to take the trip to Canada to buy insulin | Photo: @Lija27 Twitter

Published 8 May 2019

One caravaner said, "To me they're (U.S. lawmakers) a national embarrassment and they are not taking care of their citizens."

A group of United States citizens banded together to cross the border into Canada Saturday in what has been dubbed the #CaravanToCanada to find reprieve from extremely high insulin prices in the U.S., sometimes upwards of ten times the price for exactly the same product.

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Diabetics from Minnesota formed a group to cross over the Canadian border into Fort Frances, Ontario to buy insulin at a more affordable price and to call attention to the overall problem of high prices for life-saving drugs in the United States.

The United States has little control over the price of prescription drugs as do other industrialized nations with nationalized healthcare systems — U.S. patients pay three times as much or more, for similar, or sometimes exactly the same drug. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that Americans spent more than US$460 billion on drugs—16.7 percent of total health-care spending—in 2016, the last year for which there are definitive data.

In contrast, insulin and many other drugs cost less in Canada thanks to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, a federal agency that establishes the maximum price that can be charged for patented drugs.

High prices have been attributed to a number of deaths from people rationing their supply on cost concerns. Nicole Smith-Holt, now an advocate for access to insulin, lost her son because he was three days away from getting paid and didn’t have enough insulin to treat his type 1 diabetes.

CBC news reports that the trek was organized by Lija Greenseid whose daughter has type 1 diabetes and for whom her insurance requires her to have spent over US$14,000 a year before the drug can be covered. 

The trip was also part of a greater campaign by the non-profit group T1 International, which advocates for people with type 1 diabetes all over the world under the hashtag #insulinforall. According to that group, the price of insulin has increased by 1,200% since the 1990s.

Quinn Nystrom, one of the people who went on the trip said of lawmakers in the U.S.: "They want to say what a sophisticated country they are, how advanced they are, how they're one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and to me they're a national embarrassment and they are not taking care of their citizens."

She proposes national legislation to create more transparency in drug pricing, which up to now has been attributed to the costs of innovation. She also proposes creating a system by which people in need can get emergency doses of insulin.

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