On July 28th, Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) will travel with diabetes activists in a “caravan” to Canada to purchase local insulin at more affordable prices, the Sanders campaign announced last week.
These caravans to procure low-cost insulin have been spurred on by the insulin pricing crisis, as the cost of the life-saving drug has skyrocketed in the United States over the last decade.
The surging cost of insulin, and the controversy around who is to blame, has become a central political talking point among many serving politicians and prospective candidates. Several hearings in Congress have addressed this issue, though no substantive legislation or policy has emerged to directly address the problem at the national level.
Cheaper prescription drugs lure Americans north
Canada represents something of a “grey market” for American drug purchasers – in most cases, it is not legal to purchase prescription medications north of the border, but the FDA does make allowances for a three-month supply of certain drugs under certain conditions.
“Canada has a nationalized, single-payer system that allows them to negotiate much better prices with the drug companies,” Sanders said to CNN in an interview. “In our country it is a much different story. The pharmaceutical companies brought in $69 billion in profit. That is insane and it is a real threat to the health of every American. Congress needs to do something about this, and when I am president we will lower the cost of prescription drugs.”
Consensus on the problem, but not the solutions
In fact, concern around the price of insulin may be one of the few genuinely bipartisan issues in Congress at the moment, thanks to the widespread concern about the escalating costs among Americans. Sanders, along with Democrats on the left wing of the party and beyond, have called for a national health insurance scheme or “Medicare for All” as a solution to the issue.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans including President Donald Trump and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), have also criticized the pricing practices of drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers.
The commitment by Sanders to accompany the diabetes activists across the border marks the first time that a presidential candidate has taken part in direct diabetes activism in response to the insulin pricing crisis.
The pricing crisis has been a major issue in the early stages of the 2020 presidential race, however. Another presidential candidate, Senator Amy Klobuchar, for example, mentioned a young man with type 1 diabetes who died from insulin rationing in a February speech to kick off her campaign, and more recently tweeted about a separate fatality from insulin rationing. Also, Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) discussed the high price of insulin in a campaign event with Quinn Nystrom, one of the activists who will be accompanying Senator Sanders on the July 28th caravan.
Photo credit: Lorie Shaull