• Americans crossing border to buy affordable insulin

    By: Vanessa Welch

    Updated:

    A poll in March found nearly 80% of Americans find drug prices unreasonable. 

    Boston 25 News followed some diabetics over the border into Canada, where they claim to save hundreds of dollars on something they all need to survive.

    "You're in Canada and all of a sudden insulin is a lot cheaper," said Type 1 Diabetic Lauren Granata.

    One border crossing agent said he's seen several US citizens on the same journey into Canada to save hundreds of dollars on their insulin. 

    One American on the trip said he paid for three vials of his insulin for about $90 without a prescription. He usually would pay $285 for just one vial in the US.

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    "It doesn't make sense that we have to do it the way we do back home," said Brent Garner.

    At a second pharmacy, it was the same story. This time, Granata was able to find her insulin for about a quarter of the US cost.

    "There's people that legitimately die because they can't afford this and I can drive across the border and buy this for $100," she said. "And it keeps me alive."

    Insulin maker Eli Lilly shed light on its confidential drug pricing for Humalog. It said the net price patients pay after rebates and discounts actually dropped 8% from 2014. Meanwhile, the average list price rose 52% in that time to about $600 per patient each month. People without insurance could be forced to pay outright and quickly find themselves with mounting bills.

    Eli Lilly also announced a cheaper generic this month, but the group we talked to wasn't impressed, calling the announcement a Band-Aid.

    "They need to do what's right and they need to make it one price everywhere in the world," Granata said.

    The FDA warns against importing drugs because it “cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness” of the drugs. Our group said they were able to buy the exact same insulin they would purchase in the United States.

    >> Health insurer Cigna lowering insulin costs to $25 for month's supply

    The Senate Finance Committee has launched an investigation into rising insulin prices. President Donald Trump has made lowering drug prices a key goal of his administration. Until that happens, these friends are prepared to make this drive again.

    "Legally you can bring a 3-month supply across the border, so if I have to do this once every three months, I have to do it once every three months," Granata said.

    We looked into why the price difference exists. It comes down to negotiating power. In the US, Medicare can't negotiate drug prices. Canada has a drug review board that compares drug effectiveness relative to other products on the market. That board can turn down expensive drugs if they outprice a good alternative. That can drive companies to lower prices to remain competitive.

    A study published in BMJ Global Health last year estimated the cost of production of a vial of insulin at less than $4. Insulin makers say that doesn't factor in the cost of research, quality testing, distribution, and company growth.

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