A health crisis: $350 insulin in the U.S. that’s $50 in Canada

Travis Paulson, of Eveleth, Minn., has contacted all of the politicians who represent him and hasn’t been impressed with their response to the problems of hundreds of thousands of people who have diabetes: the cost of insulin is — or getting to be — beyond their means.

Paulson should know. He tells the Duluth News Tribune he could’ve died because of his decision to forego medication he couldn’t afford back when he had a decent job and health insurance. Now he’s on disability with Medicare coverage so he can afford the $700 a month.

Paulson pins the blame where it belongs: pharmaceutical companies.

“On medicines that have been out for 20, 25 years, there’s no reason that they should be holding a patent on it still,” Paulson tells the paper. “There’s no competition.”

Other countries have figured this out — the one up the road, for example — but the U.S. hasn’t — or won’t.

Sitting at his dining room table, he held tiny vials of insulin in each hand, each with identical contents and manufactured by the same company. The vial purchased in Canada cost $40; the vial purchased in the U.S. cost $350. He has checked the price for the same amount of the same insulin from the same company in other countries, as well: $40 in Taiwan; $50 in Greece; $60 in Italy.

“So really, if you’re American, you’re going to pay more for being an American,” he said. “That’s about what it comes down to.”

Part of the reason for the high cost of insulin is that it is more expensive to manufacture than many drugs, said Mike Swanoski, senior associate dean in Duluth for the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. But another factor, he said, is lack of competition.

“There’s really only three manufacturers of insulin,” Swanoski said. “They’ve really protected their turf.”

Programs to help people afford insulin aren’t helping working-class people, Paulson says.

He skipped insulin injections when he was working. Now he thinks that probably has something to do with auto-immune illnesses he has now. He’s had 25 operations on his eyes and gets monthly injections in each eye.

“Type 1 diabetes isn’t like Type 2,” Paulson said. “You should be able to go your whole life with no complications pretty easily. There are people that are going blind. They are ending up dead, with kidney failure, ketoacidosis. People are hospitalized. They go on Medicare and can’t work anymore.

“These are huge costs to America.”

If he could just get somebody to listen to what sounds like a crisis.