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Desperate Measures: The Skyrocketing Price Of Insulin In America

A woman hands an insulin pen to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) during a town hall meeting on February 23, 2017 in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The woman who says the pen costs $500 is worried if it will still be covered by Cassidy's new healthcare legislation.
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

You’ve probably heard about the migrant caravans traveling through Mexico to the U.S. border.

Well, there’s another kind of caravan crossing borders in search of survival: diabetic Americans traveling to Canada to get cheaper insulin.

In the U.S., 7.5 million people need to take insulin. And while the production cost of insulin is relatively low, its retail price has skyrocketed in recent years — making it unaffordable and sometimes dangerous to obtain.

From The Washington Post:

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 — their word, a nod to the migrants traveling in groups through Mexico to the U.S. border — are speaking out about their trip because they want Americans to see how drug prices push ordinary people to extremes.

We reached out to several pharmaceutical companies that sell insulin for comment. They offered several statements, which you can read at the bottom of the page.

Why does the U.S. treat insulin like a luxury, when it’s so widely and gravely needed? And how can policymakers and pharmaceutical companies reform healthcare costs?

Show produced by Paige Osburn. Text by Kathryn Fink.


Lija Greenseid, Consultant, Minnesota. Her 13-year-old daughter has type-1 diabetes; she has gone to Canada to purchase insulin.

Sarah Owermohle, Drug policy reporter, POLITICO

Dr. LaShawn McIver, Senior vice president of government affairs and advocacy, American Diabetes Association.

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