Bernie Sanders denounces 'greed' of American drug companies

Philippe SAUVAGNARGUES
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accompanied a group of diabetic Americans on a bus trip to Canada to buy insulin, where it costs less than a tenth of what it does in the United States (AFP Photo/Scott Eisen)

Montreal (AFP) - Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accused American pharmaceutical companies Sunday of letting diabetic patients die out of "greed," after he accompanied a group of Americans to Canada to buy insulin.

Sanders joined the group, which took a bus from the US city of Detroit to Windsor, Ontario to restock on insulin, which costs 10 times more in the United States than in its northern neighbor.

"How come the same exact medicine, in this case insulin, is sold here in Canada for one-tenth of the price it is sold in the United States?" Sanders demanded after visiting a Windsor pharmacy.

"It is collusion, it is corruption and it is greed."

Insulin is a hormone normally produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels in the body. Diabetics cannot produce sufficient levels of it themselves and are thus dependent on commercially manufactured supplements.

In the United States, one vial costs an average of $340 (300 euros).

Sanders, who made affordable health care a main tenet of both his 2016 and 2020 presidential platforms, also accused the pharmaceutical industry of spending billions lobbying Congress in order to keep drug prices exorbitantly high.

"They buy and sell politicians, Republicans and Democrats," the Vermont senator said.

"In the last 20 years, they have spent billions of dollars on lobbying Congress to make sure that they can continue to charge the American people any price they want."

Before the trip to Canada, Sanders also attacked the pharmaceutical industry in an interview with CNN.

- 'People are dying' -

"If I have a product that costs me a few dollars to make, and I jack up that price and you can't afford it, and you die, what do you call me?" he asked.

He had posed the same question at a rally the night before, to which the crowd responded: "Murderer!"

"You can call the drug company executives whatever you want, but what they are doing involves corruption -- in my view, that's price fixing," he said in the interview.

"The top 10 companies last year made $69 billion in profits. The top three insulin companies made $14 billion in profits. And people are rationing -- one out of four people are rationing their insulin -- and people are dying," Sanders said.

"That is unacceptable in the United States," he added, noting that he would establish antitrust measures against drug companies if he is elected president.

Insulin prices, which are set by the market, have tripled over the past decade in the United States.

In Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, an independent quasi-judicial organization, oversees medicine prices to ensure they never get too high.

The group of Americans Sanders accompanied has already made two restocking trips to Canada since the start of the year.

Although the trips don't happen often and are also intended to draw attention to the plight of diabetics in the United States, they are becoming a source of concern for Canadians.

According to the CBC, a group of 15 organizations representing health sector employees sent a letter to the Canadian health ministry, asking for it to establish measures to prevent eventual insulin shortages.