ST. PAUL — On the one-year anniversary of her last caravan to the Canadian border to buy affordable insulin, Quinn Nystrom — now running to represent Minnesota's District 8 in U.S. Congress — sat in her Crow Wing County home to discuss prescription drug affordability with northeastern Minnesotans on a virtual call.
Nystrom, a Democrat hoping to unseat Republican District 8 incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber come November, said on the Tuesday, July 28, virtual roundtable that as a Type 1 diabetic, insulin was always her greatest monthly expense. She married her fiance in March, 10 months earlier than they planned, to get onto her now-husband's health insurance policy. Being self-employed, she lost much of her income in the pandemic's economic downturn and wanted to ensure affordable access to her medicine.
"I think we all know, not only are we in a global health pandemic, but even prior to this global health pandemic with the coronavirus, there are way too many Minnesotans in the eighth district who are struggling to afford prescription drugs and their health insurance," Nystrom said at the start of the event.
On Tuesday's call, Travis Paulson, of Eveleth, said he has for several years now traveled to the Canadian border with others to stock up on insulin. In the United States, the cash price of a single bottle of insulin can be hundreds of dollars. With his health insurance, Paulson said his is $75 a vial. In Canada, he was able to pay $25 per bottle with no prescription or doctor's note — until the border closed amid the pandemic.
"It's just un-affordable here in the U.S. I just refuse to pay those prices and spend that much money," Paulson said. "I'm literally getting three-, four-times as much than what I would pay through my insurance and I have good insurance. (...) And it's the same product that's manufactured here in the U.S."
Even before COVID-related border closures made it impossible to purchase prescription drugs from Canada or Mexico, Nystrom said that method is "putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound."
"It’s not just people who can’t afford insulin. It’s inhalers. It's epi-pens. It's cancer medications," she said. "That can’t be our solution as a country. I’ll be damned if that’s the solution. We have enough morals and values to say we want to stand up for the people of this country and we can fight the various corporations in order to help bring this price down."
Nora-Louisa Eckstine, of Hibbing, said even with health insurance, expensive co-pays and high deductibles can make health care too expensive. And as hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans have lost their jobs, — therefore oftentimes their income and health insurance — she said you are forced to question what you can pay for: medicine, or other necessities.
"Those trips to the clinic are not only scary because of the COVID, but scary because, are we going to have food on the table?" Eckstine said. "Are we going to have gas money? Are we paying that electric bill that’s going to be due every month?"
Nystrom said the problem is often exacerbated in rural Minnesota because of a lack of providers and the closures of rural hospitals, making rural residents travel further for care, which costs more money to travel and sometimes miss work.
"What I’m committing to is fighting for fundamental change," Nystrom said. "No programs, no coupons, nothing that people can just yank away when they decide they don’t want to do the PR program sometime. We need to see systematic changes up and down."