Canadian Border Closures Highlight the Need for the United States to Address the Insulin Crisis Domestically

By: Samantha Johnson, 2L

Jenn Ackerman for The Washington Post

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts and researchers have keenly observed the effects that COVID-19 has had on factors outside of the obvious health repercussions. For months, it has been a daily rundown on new and different ways that COVID-19 is impacting peoples everyday lives. However, a minor issue within this bigger scheme is how the Canadian border closures have impacted diabetics that rely on their ability to purchase their insulin in Canada. Despite the lack of attention brought upon this issue, it is important to recognize the current and future implications of these border closures.

Currently, 7.5 Americans are insulin dependent, and being one of the highest out-of-pocket costs worldwide, a vial of insulin in the United States can cost diabetics up to $400 per vial. Even with privatized healthcare, diabetics are often left to pay up to $1000 per year after taking deductibles into account. These astronomical costs have led to an insulin crisis in the United States where a type 1 diabetes diagnosis can mean death for some. To cope with these costs diabetics are often stuck between a rock and a hard place. Some diabetics will try and ration their insulin so that it lasts for a longer period of time, however this practice is highly dangerous and has led to death. The current, and safer, practice is diabetics traveling to Canada to purchase their insulin.

In Canada, a vial of insulin can cost a meager $25. Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board is a federal agency that is enshrined with the power to establish maximum drug prices and are charged with ensuring that prices are affordable. This maximum limitation on prices often mean that this insulin is consistently affordable for both Canadian and American diabetics.

In the last two years, the caravans to Canada by diabetics looking to purchase insulin has increased. However, beginning in March of 2020, the United States and Canada reached an agreement to limit all non-essential travel. This agreement has led to American diabetics being turned away from the border due to the purchasing of insulin not being deemed an essential reason to travel across the border.

Unfortunately, with this inaccessibility to the affordable insulin in Canada, and the United States’ lack of response to addressing the insulin crisis, COVID-19 will continue to despairingly impact the diabetic community in the United States. This harsh consequence of border closures highlights the need for the United States to address the insulin crisis within their borders. The United States should follow the lead of Canada and implement maximum price caps on insulin so that diabetics can survive this pandemic and survive any other emergency that could cause border closures in the future.

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