The Insulin Racket – Driving to Canada

I’ve written about the insulin drug racket before – last time just this past January.

Diabetics are walking cash cows to be milked by big pharma on everything from insulin, to substitute diabetes drugs to blood meter testing strips.  Nobody, but nobody wants to “cure” diabetes;  it is simply to be managed and milked for profits.

Insulin prices have risen by triple digits in the last 5 years and are now endangering the lives of those who cannot afford to pay.  Read my last post if you haven’t already.

We have gotten to the point where our people, tax paying citizens of the richest country on earth are now making (probably illegal) drug runs to Canada.

As their minivan rolled north, they felt their nerves kick in — but they kept on driving.

“At the wheel: Lija Greenseid, a rule-abiding Minnesota mom steering her Mazda 5 on a cross-border drug run.

Her daughter, who is 13, has Type 1 diabetes and needs insulin. In the United States, it can cost hundreds of dollars per vial. In Canada, you can buy it without a prescription for a tenth of that price. 

So Greenseid led a caravan last month  to Ontario where she and 5 others paid $1,200 for drugs which would have cost $12,000 in the United States.

“It felt like we were robbing the pharmacy,” said Quinn Nystrom, a Type 1 diabetic who joined the caravan that day. “It has been years since I had 10 vials in my hands.”

They’re planning another run to Canada this month to stock up on insulin — and to call attention to their cause. This time, they’ll be taking the scenic route, driving from Minnesota through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan in route to London, Ontario, where insulin was discovered nearly a century ago.

Like millions of Americans, Greenseid and Nystrom are stressed and outraged by the rising costs of prescription drugs in the United States — a problem Republicans and Democrats alike have promised to fix.

Don’t hold your breath.

Insulin is a big part of the challenge. More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. About 7.5 million, including 1.5 million with Type 1 diabetes, rely on insulin.  Including me.

Between 2012 and 2016, the cost of insulin for treating Type 1 diabetes nearly doubled, according to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute.

Some pharmaceutical companies, under pressure from U.S. lawmakers, have tried to reduce the cost for some patients. But many who rely on insulin still struggle. Large numbers resort to rationing — a dangerous and sometimes deadly practice.

Some diabetics and their families are taking matters into their own hands. They meet in coffee shops and strip mall parking lots to exchange emergency supplies. An unknown number travel outside the country to buy the lifesaving drug for less.

None of this is recommended by U.S. officials, and some of it might be illegal under Food and Drug Administration guidelines. But the organizers of the caravan are speaking out about their trips because they want Americans to see how drug prices push ordinary people to extremes.

“When you have a bad health-care system, it makes good people feel like outlaws,” Greenseid said.

“It’s demeaning. It’s demoralizing. It’s unjust.”

Insulin prices are controlled in Canada through policy, price caps and negotiations with manufacturers, which is of course something we could do – but don’t.

I remember distinctly that the insulin I take today, Novolin 70/30, was considerably cheaper than the older pig/beef based insulins. My doctor encouraged me to change – “it’s human!”

It was also patented.  No one today outside of the drug companies knows exactly what it costs to make a vial or pen of insulin.  That’s “proprietary knowledge.”  Whatever the actual cost seems to be pretty damn profitable.

Today the cheapest bottle of Novolin 70/30 insulin  you can find in America is about $175 for a ten milliliter vial – which lasts me about three weeks.  That would be the lower end of the cost for a vial for those without prescription insurance.  That same identical vial would cost you considerably less in Canada, without insurance coverage or a prescription.

I know.  I’ve ordered drugs from Canada on line, shipped to me in a cooler.  Same identical insulin I buy here at home.  Cost me $250 for $1,000 worth of inulin – by mail. Yes, it was illegal.

The new “analog” insulins are even more expensive running over $500 a pen for some brands.  Analog insulins mimic more closely how the body actually responds to rising blood sugars.  I keep a pen or two in the house;  if I find my sugar levels running too high; these insulins can knock it down pretty quickly.

I can afford all of this because I have that “socialist” Medicare, including its drug program.  I can’t imagine how I would get along without it.  It does, however have it limitations.

Part D drug coverage under Medicare was instituted by Bush the Lesser and seemed to work really well for awhile.  Unfortunately the legislation omitted any effort by the government to negotiate the price of drugs with drug companies; the law was probably written by the drug companies themselves.

Part D drug coverage this year basically covers the first $3,820 total of annual drug costs  paid by the individual and the insurer.  This amount has increased by about $500 over the last several years.  After a total of $3,820 the individual enters into the dreaded “donut hole” where coverage by the insurer is severely reduced and the individual is burdened with a larger percentage of the cost.

Recently I paid $33 for five vials.  The retail pharmacy billed Medicare a further $817 for a total of $170 per vial.   At this very moment I can buy 5 vials of my insulin from a major pharmaceutical outlet in Canada, shipped express in a sealed cooler packed with dry ice for exactly $500 less than the amount billed to Medicare – or $100 less per vial.  And that’s without shopping around for a lower price or going to Canada and appearing in person.  Now why is that?

Click on the link and type in Humulin in the search bar.  My insulin will appear on the first line – $350.73 for 5 vials.

I’m sure I will be in the donut hole come Thanksgiving.

P.S. – Or perhaps you are a Type II diabetic and are intrigued by those ubiquitous Trulicity ads on TV.  As info, – the list wholesale price to distributors is $760 for a month’s supply or $9,120 a year.  If you have crummy insurance you will pay through the nose.  If you are poor and have no insurance that’s probably equivalent to your rent money.


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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7 Responses to The Insulin Racket – Driving to Canada

  1. beetleypete says:

    As I have told you before, treatment for Diabetes is totally free here, including a waiver of the nominal prescription charge of £9 per item. My wife has Type 2, and needs two drugs, as well as a sub/cut injection of a drug that speeds up the absorption of the tablets. If she was not exempt from the charges, it would still only cost her £27 a month, including all the doctor appointments, and hospital clinic visits. That means her eye tests and routine blood flow checks are free, as well as her foot clinic checks.
    America needs to get on board with one of those reviled so-called ‘socialist’ health care programmes, where every wage earner pays into the system, whether they need it or not.
    Because one day, everyone does need it.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Based on your testimony, staying alive in America is not only costly, but has also become a risky endeavor. Is this situation sustainable?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Maggie says:

    It is a horrible situation all around. I hate that you or anyone has to go through this just to maintain your health. It is criminal.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: The Insulin Racket – Toritto’s Foresight | toritto

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