Americans ‘Caravan’ to Canada for Cheaper Insulin

In recent months, the rising cost of insulin in the United States has received widespread media coverage. As noted in a report earlier this year from the Health Care Cost Institute, the average cost of an annual supply of insulin for someone with type 1 diabetes has risen from $2,864 in 2012 to $5,705 in 2016 — and likely even more since then.

The exact reasons for these price increases aren’t straightforward, and were explored last year in a report, published in the journal Diabetes Care, by a panel of experts called the Insulin Access and Affordability Working Group. The report noted the complexity of the U.S. insulin supply chain, and recommended a variety of steps that doctors, health plans and government agencies could take to address the problem.

Insulin Infographic
Courtesy of the American Diabetes Association

But some people have decided they can’t wait for cheaper insulin, and have found a time-consuming but simple solution: traveling to Canada to buy insulin there. A recent article in The Washington Post describes a group that has made the journey once so far, and plans to continue doing so.

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As described in the article, Lija Greenseid, a Minnesota resident whose 13-year-old daughter has type 1 diabetes, led a small self-described “caravan” that drove last month to Fort Frances, Ontario. She and five other people paid about $1200 to buy a supply of insulin over-the-counter that would cost about $12,000 in the United States, where a prescription for the same type of insulin is required.

The article notes that many U.S. politicians — both Democrats and Republicans — have proposed a legal and regulatory framework for importing drugs from Canada, with the aim of making such trips unnecessary. But as the caravaners and a Canadian drug expert note, insulin prices are lower in Canada because of government price caps and negotiations with manufacturers — steps the United States could also take to lower costs more directly.

For its next trip, the caravan will head to London, Ontario, where research efforts leading to the discovery of insulin began in the 1920s. And due to publicity from the first trip, the group has grown large enough to switch from cars to a chartered bus.

Want to learn how to save money on your insulin? Read “Insulin Prices: Four Ways to Pay Less.”

Quinn PhillipsQuinn Phillips

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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