Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is heading to Canada on Sunday with Type 1 diabetes patients seeking cheaper insulin to highlight what he calls the “corruption” of pharmaceutical companies and the toll taken on Americans who can’t afford the medicine.
“People are dying,” the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” in an exclusive interview hosted from Detroit, Michigan. He said the cost of insulin in the US has “soared in recent years” and “there is strong evidence that there is price fixing, that these companies simultaneously raise the prices at outrageous levels far, far, far more than the cost of production.”
He accused drug company executives of “corruption” and “unbelievable greed.” In Canada, he said, insulin is “one-tenth of the price.”
“One out of four people are rationing their insulin, and people are dying. That is unacceptable in the United States of America,” he claims.
Sanders said if elected president, “we’re going to take on the pharmaceutical industry, we’re going to have an attorney general who is going to deal with the incredible concentration of ownership and we’re going to use anti-trust legislation.”
The trip comes days before CNN’s presidential primary debates in Detroit on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sanders, who has long targeted pharmaceutical companies over the cost of prescription drugs, has so far set the pace for the 2020 health care debate. Other Democratic candidates have either signed on to his “Medicare for All” single payer plan or are talking about how their vision is different.
‘Health care is not free’
Last week, former Vice President Joe Biden criticized California Sen. Kamala Harris, a fellow 2020 contender, without naming her, for backing a Medicare For All proposal while claiming she would enact it without raising taxes on the middle class.
“Come on. I mean, what is this? Is this a fantasy world here?” Biden told reporters after a campaign stop in Dearborn, Michigan.
Asked Sunday if he agrees with Biden, Sanders told Tapper, “Obviously, health care is not free. Right now we pay for it through premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. In Canada it’s paid through taxes. We’ll have to do that.”
A Biden campaign official told CNN that in the upcoming debate, Biden is going to draw contrasts on policy disagreements — health care in particular. The official said, “Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Warren are all signed onto Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, which means higher taxes for the middle class, which is a non-starter for Joe Biden.”
Sanders said, “That is disingenuous on the part of Joe.”
“Yeah, it’s going to mean higher taxes,” he told Tapper. But he said, the bottom line is that “you will pay less for your health care costs than you are currently paying right now.”
In search of cheaper medicine
Sanders frequently points to the Canadian and other health care systems as models for what Medicare for All could be in the US.
He wants to lower American drug prices by importing medication from countries like Canada — an idea that has been long pushed by US Democrats. The concept is supported by many 2020 contenders and has the backing of President Donald Trump.
But days before the Vermont senator’s trip to Canada, a coalition of 15 Canadian medical professional and patient groups asked their government to protect their pharmaceutical supply. Canada already experiences drug shortages, the group says, and does not have the bandwidth to send medications to the US.
After his CNN interview in Detroit, Sanders tweeted, “I just boarded the bus in Detroit with diabetics, on our way to Windsor, Canada, to buy affordable insulin. Americans are paying $300 for insulin. In Canada they can purchase it for $30. We are going to end pharma’s greed.”
The trip from Detroit is not the first time Sanders will cross into Canada with people in search of cheaper medicine. Two decades ago, Sanders went on a similar trip with women fighting breast cancer who left from Saint Albans, Vermont, in search of lower drug prices.