Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

PolitiFact: Rick Scott overshoots on how much more insulin costs in the U.S. than in Canada

Scott took the story of a group of Minnesotans crossing to Canada to drive home the point.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., gestures as he speaks to members of the media on April 15 at El Porton de la Flaca Colombian restaurant in Doral. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., gestures as he speaks to members of the media on April 15 at El Porton de la Flaca Colombian restaurant in Doral. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published Jul. 15, 2019
Updated Jul. 15, 2019

When it comes to brand name prescription drugs, Americans pay more than others. Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott took the story of a group of Minnesotans crossing to Canada to drive home the point.

“Americans are traveling to Canada to pay 12 times less for insulin than they would here in the US,” Scott tweeted July 8.

We decided to explore whether Americans can get their insulin in Canada at one-twelfth what they would pay in the United States.

The cost is certainly less in Canada, but by how much is harder to pin down. Particularly in the United States, the gap between list and actual price is often huge. However, people without insurance are most exposed to the highest prices.

Scott’s tweet drew on a Miami Herald article about a drug-buying trip organized by diabetes activist Quinn Nystrom. Nystrom declared the outing a success.

“Pure joy as we walk out of the pharmacy in Canada after buying insulin for 12X less than in the United States. Group insulin order in the U.S.: $23,789.24. In Canada: $1,924.10,” Nystrom’s July 1 tweet said.

We asked Nystrom where the American number came from. She told us it was the price the trip members would have paid if they had no insurance and no rebates and paid the full list price.

“We did this because in Canada we were paying the cash retail price there,” Nystrom said. “It was the closest comparison we could make. As soon as insurance comes in, then it varies greatly in the United States.”

Some in the group did have insurance. Others did not, and Nystrom herself faces hefty bills.

“I have a high-deductible plan, so in January, I paid out-of-pocket $600 for two vials of Novolog — retails for $680,” she said.

The bottom line is that the nearly $24,000 in Nystrom’s tweet is the highest possible price — many people would have paid less at their local pharmacy.

“The whole drug industry has seen a huge gap grow between list and actual discounted price over the years,” said drug researcher Geoffrey Joyce at the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California. “Insulin is the poster child for that trend.”

Joyce called Nystrom’s 12-fold difference “misleading.”

“It’s true in extreme cases, but it’s not a fair apples-to-apples comparison,” he said.

There are two main ways that Americans avoid paying full freight for prescription drugs. People who have insurance benefit from the negotiated prices that keep the drug on an insurer’s list of covered medicines. Or, if a person has no insurance, he or she might have a coupon from a drug maker that cuts the price.

“Pricing of drugs in general, and for insulin specifically, is very complex,” a 2018 study from the American Diabetes Association said. “With this system, there is no one agreed-upon price for any insulin formulation. The price ultimately paid by the person with diabetes at the point of sale results from the prices, rebates, and fees negotiated among the stakeholders.”

That Byzantine system delivers prices that are higher than in Canada, but research is thin on what the actual gap is.

One hurdle is that Canada has its own complexities. The national health system doesn’t cover prescription drugs. A person’s experience varies according to the province he or she lives in and their employer plans. But at the same time, drug prices in Canada are overseen by the Patented Medicines Price Review Board.

That government agency sets a ceiling on prices, based in part on what the same drug costs in other countries, and that keeps a lid on what Canadians pay. (President Donald Trump has floated an idea along these lines. Even with this approach, problems remain.)

“In Canada, you have the government negotiating on behalf of Canadian citizens,” Joyce said. “In the United States, it’s more market driven, and if the market doesn’t work so well, people pay more.”

Joyce emphasized that in the United States, those with the least insurance, and the least ability to pay, face the highest prices. As our partners at Kaiser Health News have reported, one out of four people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes ration their insulin. That’s hundreds of thousands of people. And even if the price gap between the United States and Canada is on the smaller side, diabetics need insulin forever, and the higher U.S. prices add up.

Scott said that Americans go to Canada to pay 12 times less for insulin than they would in the United States. The difference for most people would not be that great, and in reality, it was not that large even for the people Scott had read about.

Nevertheless, insulin prices in Canada tend to be many times lower than in the United States. Scott’s number points in the right direction, but it overshoots.

We rate this claim Half True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/florida.

Correction: The claim drew on a story about a drug-buying trip organized by diabetes activist Quinn Nystrom. An earlier version of this story had one incorrect reference to her last name.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, pauses as he speaks in North Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday. [GERALD HERBERT  |  AP]
  2. From left, Democratic presidential candidates former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C., co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
  3. State Attorney Bernie McCabe, right, has been working from home after suffering an "adverse health event." [Times (2018)]
  4. From left, Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday in Charleston, S.C., co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
  5. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks with members of the media after a Democratic presidential primary debate, Tuesday, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) [MATT ROURKE  |  AP]
  6. Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C., co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
  7. Scott Rivkees, who could become Florida's next Surgeon General, has a vindictive history, according to former colleagues
  8. Florida Polytechnic University's main Innovation, Science and Technology Building. [DEMETRIUS FREEMAN   |   Times]
  9. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- Orlando  [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  10. FILE- In this July 1, 2013 file photo, is the exterior of the Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals office in St. Louis. The generic drugmaker Mallinckrodt has a tentative $1.6 billion deal to settle lawsuits over its role in the U.S. opioid crisis, it announced Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. The deal is intended to end hundreds of lawsuits faced by the company over opioids. (Whitney Curtis/AP Images for Mallinckrodt, File) [WHITNEY CURTIS  |  AP]
  11. In this June 17, 2019, file photo, a cashier displays a packet of tobacco-flavored Juul pods at a store in San Francisco. Investigators from 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday. Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.  (AP Photo/Samantha Maldonado, File) [SAMANTHA MALDONADO  |  AP]
  12. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during First in the South Dinner, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) [MATT ROURKE  |  AP]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement