Americans who need insulin to survive should not have to caravan across the Canadian border to get it. And yet, in recent weeks, groups of desperate American diabetes patients have organized caravans to Canada to get the drug they say is now dangerously expensive in the United States.
Insulin prices have been skyrocketing for at least seven years. A yearly supply that cost an average of $2,864 in 2012 cost $5,705 in 2016. A study earlier this year, however, showed the price hikes have made insulin too expensive. The border-crossing patients who would pay $320 for a vial of insulin in the United States found the same vial for $30 in Canada.
Not all diabetes patients need insulin to manage their disease, but those who do rely on regular doses to prevent complications including blindness, nerve disease, kidney failure, and stroke. In some cases, diabetics have resorted to rationing their insulin supply, leading to a handful of highly publicized deaths in recent months.
And while access to insulin gets tougher, worldwide diabetes rates are on the rise. Stanford researchers have predicted that by 2030 only about half the people who need insulin will be able to get it. Increasing demand for the drug as the number of diabetes cases grows will inevitably force the price of insulin higher and higher.
The Senate held hearings on the insulin shortage last year, and President Trump pledged to address the issue as part of his broader prescription drug plan. Yet so far, no relief is in sight as insulin prices continue to climb and patients book seats on caravans headed for the Canadian border.
Congress must move the issue of high drug prices — particularly high insulin prices — to the top of its agenda. The lawmakers have long debated a menu of solutions from allowing U.S. consumers to legally import Canadian pharmaceuticals to speeding up approval of generic competitor drugs. It is time to move bills that accomplish drug-price reform through Congress and on to President Trump’s desk.
Diabetes is treatable. No American should die from it simply because they cannot access affordable insulin.