A 'Caravan' of Americans Is Crossing the Canadian Border to Get Affordable Medical Care

The sun sets behind an abandoned customs station on the U.S. side of the Canada-U.S. border on Meridian Road in Champlain, New York, February 27, 2017. A group of Americans living with Type 1 diabetes journeyed to Canada to purchase insulin at a dramatically lower cost. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty

A "caravan" of Americans living with Type 1 diabetes made its way across the U.S. border into Canada over the weekend in search of affordable medical care in a country where they can get the "exact same" life-saving drugs for a dramatically lower price.

"We're on a #CaravanToCanada because the USA charges astronomical prices for insulin that most people can't afford," tweeted caravan member Quinn Nystrom as she shared updates on the journey.

Nystrom was among a group of Minnesotans who piled into cars on Friday to make the 600-mile journey from the Twin Cities to Fort Frances, Ontario, where she said insulin, the hormone patients with Type 1 Diabetes rely on to regulate their blood glucose levels, can be bought for a tenth of what it costs in the U.S.

The caravan was organized as part of a campaign launched under the banner "#insulin4all" to call on the U.S. government to regulate the cost of life-saving drugs, including insulin, and make medication affordable for anyone who needs it.

And the #CaravanToCanada is departing from St. Paul now! Should be getting to Fort Frances, Canada 🇨🇦 around 3 p.m. to get our insulin. #MNinsulin4all #insulin4all pic.twitter.com/YT15gbyRzL

— Quinn Nystrom (@QuinnNystrom) May 4, 2019

Calling the cost of insulin in the U.S. a "price crisis," the #Insulin4All group noted on its website that since the mid-1990s, the price tag on insulin in America has skyrocketed more than 1,100 percent, according to data from Truven Health Analytics, despite the cost of production for a vial of analog insulin costing less than $10.

A recently released report ordered by Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Committee, found that millions of Americans who rely on insulin were paying up to 92 percent more for the lifesaving medication than patients in other countries.

Posting a photo of a Walgreens pharmacy store on the caravan's journey to Canada, Nystrom wrote that the group "could've ended our #CaravanToCanada in 5 minutes, but unfortunately, they charge $300 for insulin. So, we will travel another 5 hours north so we will only have to pay $30 for a vial of insulin."

We could’ve ended our #CaravanToCanada in 5 minutes, but unfortunately they charge $300 for insulin. So we will travel another 5 hours north so we will only have to pay $30 for a vial of Insulin. #MNinsulin4all #insulin4all #americawehaveaproblem #makeinsulinaffordableagain pic.twitter.com/JRvU8dMj7I

— Quinn Nystrom (@QuinnNystrom) May 4, 2019

Lija Greenseid, who joined the caravan on behalf of her 13-year-old daughter—who lives with Type 1 diabetes— told Newsweek that she first realized just how vast the difference was between the cost of insulin in the U.S. when compared with Canada while on a family vacation there years ago, when her daughter needed an emergency supply.

She said her family also has traveled to other parts of the world and consistently found the medication their daughter needs for a fraction of what it costs in the U.S.

Whereas in the U.S., Greenseid said, five insulin pens might cost $700, in Canada, purchasing the same amount of insulin cost her family just $65. In Italy, it was $61. In Greece, $51, and in Taiwan, even less, at $40.

Greenseid said in the U.S. the exorbitant cost of insulin has been a "big economic burden" on her family, with both her and her spouse being small business owners.

But, in Canada, not only was the cost of insulin dramatically lower, but gaining access to the type of insulin her daughter needed was also significantly easier.

"This year it took me 15 phone calls to a variety of parts of the healthcare system over 11 days before I could get my daughter's insulin refilled. And this is exactly the same insulin we've been getting for many years," Greenseid said. "But, in Canada, you just walk in and you buy it...It's literally just as easy as you know, walking up to the pharmacy counter and asking for what you need."

For Greenseid, the realization was a startling one: "It definitely illustrated for me how wrong it is that we're paying the prices we're paying. It just doesn't have to be like that. It feels frustrating," she said.

At the same time, she said that she takes some solace in knowing that she can turn to other countries, like Canada, to help get her daughter the life-saving medication she needs.

"There's a little bit of a sense of relief in knowing that only 5 hours away we can drive to Canada and easily get insulin, but it's a little crazy to rely on another country," Greenseid said. And, she said, heading north to Canada for medicine is "obviously not the solution to this problem."

"It's really a matter of making broader changes to the system," Greenseid said, before noting the recent push from lawmakers for the federal government to address the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs once and for all.

Indeed, in recent weeks, lawmakers have been drawing more attention to the high costs of drugs like insulin, as soaring prescription drug costs continue to be a top voter concern in polls.

President Donald Trump's administration has vowed to address calls for greater drug pricing regulation. But, Democrats, including Cummings, have criticized the U.S. leader for being all talk and no action on that promise.

"Tweets are not enough," Cummings said in a statement, after Trump lamented high drug costs on Twitter. "We need real action and meaningful reform," Cummings said.

This article has been updated with statements from Lija Greenseid​.

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