CHARLESTON — West Virginia Dels. Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas, are joining forces with health care activists from West Virginia and Virginia to organize a bus caravan to Canada to help people buy cheaper insulin.
The one-day trip is scheduled for Dec. 8. Buses will leave from Morgantown and the cost is $100 per person. Tickets may be purchased and donations may be made at https://insulincaravan.eventsmart.com/events/caravan-to-canada/.
“The reason for the caravan is because of the insulin affordability crisis,” Fleischauer said in a release. “The cost in the U.S. has skyrocketed — nearly tripling since 2002, up 64% since January 2014. Yet this life-saving medicine can be purchased much more cheaply in Canada.”
Hill, Fleischauer and others on the House Health and Human Resources Committee have been working on legislation to limit the cost of insulin.
Hill and Fleischauer hope there will be bipartisan support for a solution in the 2020 legislative session.
“Obviously, diabetes does not discriminate based on what political party you belong to,” Hill said in a release. “In the meantime, this caravan can provide some financial relief to citizens who have diabetes. One person who went on a caravan saved over $11,000.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the highest rate of diabetes in the nation.
“People with Type I diabetes are especially vulnerable to these price increases because their diabetes can be difficult to control,” said Adrian Kiger Olmstead, chairwoman of the West Virginia Chapter of #insulin4all, part of T1International, in a release. “Also, less generous insurance plans result in people paying thousands of dollars out of pocket every year, including those on Medicare who hit the ‘doughnut hole.’”
Olmstead estimated she has spent over $300,000 in the past 20 years for medicine, equipment and treatment related to her diabetes. Olmstead was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 11 years old.
“There is a monopoly on insulin — just three companies make it,” she said. “People in our country have died because they rationed their insulin due to the cost. We hope our caravan will send a message that this problem needs to be fixed now, before anyone else loses their life.”
After this year’s legislative session, Olmstead, a resident of Monongalia County, approached Fleischauer to thank her for co-sponsoring House Bill 2524. That bill, which is now law, requires pharmacists to fill prescriptions for life-saving medicine, even if the prescriptions have expired. It is sometimes referred to as Kevin’s Law. Kevin Howdeshell died after his pharmacy would not fill his expired prescription for insulin on New Year’s Eve in 2013. An Ohio State graduate, he was 36 years old.
Olmstead said the next step needs to be reducing the cost of all types of insulin, perhaps like Colorado legislation, which mandates that co-pays for insulin not exceed $100.
Elected officials and candidates from Virginia also will join West Virginia delegates on the caravan, sparked in part by the death of a Virginia resident in June 2019. Josh Wilkerson, of Berryville, Virginia, had, like Howdeshell, aged out of his parents’ health insurance plan on his 26th birthday. He eventually switched to over-the-counter insulin because he could not afford the prescription brand he needed. He died from a diabetic coma, his blood sugar level 17 times the normal rate. He was only 28.
Those wanting to purchase insulin in Canada will need an up-to-date passport and should immediately begin the process to obtain one. The process can take six to 10 weeks. Forms may be obtained online at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html. That site also lists the closest post offices that issue passports. Passports cost $165, while a passport card is $65. Expedited service, which may take eight days, costs an extra $60.
The trip to Canada from Morgantown is about five hours.