Forty-eight hours before the second round of Democratic debates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders led a pack of people to Canada for a quick trip to buy their much-needed insulin medications.
There were roughly a dozen people who went to Canada with Sanders, who had Type 1 diabetes. They needed insulin to help regulate their blood sugar but were surprised by how insulin in the United States was ridiculously overpriced.
Sanders and his team’s detour worked more as a publicity stunt but an effective one. He wanted to highlight one of the core promises of his campaign: health care.
Specifically, Sanders’ goal was to bring new light and attention towards the issues faced by people who have Type 1 diabetes—issues, he said again on Sunday, that can be traced directly back to “greedy” pharmaceutical companies and lawmakers who refuse to take on the crisis.
In general, insulin in Canada us sold by a tenth of the amount that’s currently populating the US market. In the US, a vial could go up to $350 to $400. Meanwhile, you can buy them for $35 to $45.
Last February, the Senate Finance Committee asked the three dominant insulin makers detailed questions about the drugs’ price increases in a committee letter. The price for one vial of Eli Lilly’s Humalog surged from $35 in 2001 to $234 in 2015. From 2013 to this year, Novo Nordisk’s Novolog jumped from $289 to $540 and Sanofi’s Lantus from $244 to $431.
The life-threatening counterpart of the whole thing is that more and more people are getting deprived of access to needed medications. As a result, people ration or, worse, skip dosages that effectively regulate their body’s glucose levels.
More than 25 percent of patients must inject themselves with insulin daily. All people with type 1 diabetes and many people with type 2 diabetes need insulin to manage their disease and to prevent or slow the progression of dangerous complications.
From Sanders’ political perspective is highlighting single-payer, government-backed health care system, a system that is similar to his ”Medicare For All” plan that aims to do the same in the US.
Sanders and the “medical refugees” bought their insulin vials at the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy in Windsor, where a crowd of people welcomed and cheered their arrival.
“It’s an embarrassment for those of us who are Americans, we love our Canadian neighbors, and we thank them so much, but we should not have to come to Canada to get the medicine we need for our kids to stay alive, we can do that in America,” Sanders said after leaving the pharmacy.
Speaking to the crowd outside the pharmacy Sunday, Sanders said that as president he would appoint an attorney general who would use anti-trust legislation to address what he described as “collusion” among those few major drug giants.
These legislations would allow open trade for approved drugs from other countries—a move that he sees should have happened a long time ago.
As an example, Sanders noted that the US allows open trade for almost everything with other countries. “You’re getting lettuce and tomatoes coming from Mexico. You’re getting the shoes you’re wearing, coming from China. You’ve got poultry coming from all over the world,” Sander elaborated.
In light of the current situation, he questioned why the same openness is not available for drugs such as those from Canada into the United States, especially when the FDA themselves approves those drugs.
“And the drug companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign contributions, bribing members of the Congress, in essence, who spent billions on lobbying, have been able to prevent us from having prescription drug distributors or pharmacists buying products here in Canada that is a fraction of the price.”
Recalling Sanders’ 1999 election campaign where he did a similar thing but for Tamoxifen, a widely-prescribed but expensive breast cancer drug.
More than two decades later, Sanders is continuing to push for the federal government to allow the importation of approved drugs—something that has bipartisan support, including from the White House.
With a similar goal in mind, a larger group of about 45 people made the same trip but to London, Ont. and visited Banting House where Sir Frederick Banting came up with the idea that led to the discovery of insulin 99 years ago.