EpiPen's are an auto-injector that help fight allergic reactions and expire annually
EpiPens now costs about $600 whereas the price was $100 in 2009
The incredible increase in the cost of EpiPens, auto-injectors that can stop life-threatening emergencies caused by allergic reactions, has hit home on Capitol Hill.
One Democratic senator whose daughter has allergies has called for action and another Democratic senator’s daughter is CEO of the company responsible for the price hike.
Sen. Joe Manchin said Thursday Mylan, the company which manufactures Epipens which is headed by his daughter, is responding to constituent and lawmaker questions.
“I am aware of the questions my colleagues and many parents are asking and frankly I share their concerns about the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs,” the West Virginia Democrat said in a statement. “Today I heard Mylan’s initial response, and I am sure Mylan will have a more comprehensive and formal response to those questions.”
His daughter, Heather Bresch who is Mylan’s CEO, announced Thursday the company is taking steps to make the product more affordable, including providing $300 savings cards to cut the price in half, though she told CNBC the health care “system” needed to be fixed.
“I look forward to reviewing their response in detail and working with my colleagues and all interested parties to lower the price of prescription drugs and to continue to improve our health care system,” Manchin added.
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal dismissed the change as a “PR fix.”
“This step seems like a PR fix more than a real remedy, masking an exorbitant and callous price hike. This baby step should be followed by actual robust action,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
“The only fair and effective relief is a substantial price reduction for everyone who needs access to this life-saving drug, not just a special break for people who are in particular health plans and have the extra hours in their work day to navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth of discounts. I will continue to push for a federal investigation and Congressional action.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley also said Thursday that those changes don’t address the big issues.
“The announcement today doesn’t appear to change the product price. The price is what Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies pay. It’s what patients who don’t get assistance cards pay,” the Iowa Republican said in a statement. “And when drug companies offer patient assistance cards, it’s usually not clear how many patients benefit.”
Grassley had written Bresch earlier this week, requesting information about the reason behind the price increase. On Thursday, Grassley said he was still seeking answers from Mylan.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democrat whose daughter relies on EpiPen, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week to investigate the price increase of the medication, calling it “unjustified.”
Klobuchar, voicing concerns for parents whose children have allergies, wants action.
“Many Americans, including my own daughter, rely on this life-saving product to treat severe allergic reactions,” the Minnesota Democrat wrote in a statement on her website. “Not only is this alarming price increase unjustified, it puts life-saving treatment out of reach to the consumers who need it most.”
The price increase has caused a public outcry as parents of children who have these severe allergies are particularly sounding the alarm as students are returning to school.
A standard two-pack of EpiPens now costs about $600 whereas the price was $100 in 2009. The pen provides epinephrine, a hormone also known as adrenaline that can help relax muscles in the airwaves in the midst of a severe allergic reaction.
The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act became law in 2013 to encourage states to increase their supply of epinephrine in schools. Some states have gone as far to pass laws requiring schools to have the drug.
“EpiPen expires after a year, meaning consumers are required to buy new EpiPens annually. However, due to the increasing cost, some people are being forced to carry expired doses of EpiPen, hoping the product will work even past the expiration date,” Klobuchar added.
Klobuchar also urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Mylan has used incentives and exclusionary contracts to deny an alternative product to hit the market.
She said the concern around EpiPens is not unique to this drug.
“Unfortunately, the story of EpiPen is not unique. Time and again, we see reports of a pharmaceutical company buying a prescription drug product and then raising the price dramatically,” she wrote.
Sen. Claire McCaskill and Sen. Susan Collins, leaders on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, wrote Bresch expressing their concern about the declining affordability of Epi Pens.
“There have been numerous accounts of individuals who are simply unable to afford this lifesaving medication and as a consequence have gone without, risked using an expired product, or resorted to uncertain (but less expensive) treatments,” they wrote.
The Senators are requesting a briefing with Bresch to occur “at a mutually convenient time no later than two weeks from” Wednesday.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in on the issue calling the increases outrageous.
“Over the last several years, Mylan Pharmaceuticals has increased the price of EpiPens by more than 400%,” she said.
“That’s outrageous – and it’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also tweeted that the price increase is unreasonable.
“There’s no reason an EpiPen, which costs Mylan just a few dollars to make, should cost families more than $600,” he tweeted.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that pharmaceutical companies “do real damage” to their reputations by making drugs unaffordable.
“Obviously, I’m not going to make specific comment or specifically second-guess the pricing strategy or the business practices of one private enterprise,” he said. “I will observe, however, that pharmaceutical companies that often try to portray themselves as the inventors of lifesaving medication often do real damage to their reputation by being greedy and jacking up prices in a way that victimizes vulnerable Americans.”
This is not the first time this year Congress has gotten involved over the high cost of pharmaceuticals. In February, the House Oversight Committee questioned former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli for hiking up the price of Daraprim, a toxoplasmosis treatment used by AIDS patients, by 5000%.
Shkreli defended Mylan in a tweet Wednesday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings accused Shkreli of dealing in “blood money” and taking advantage of Turing’s customers.
“People are dying and they’re getting sicker and sicker.”
“Like a Ponzi scheme, it appears that Turing might be using profits from Daraprim to invest in new drugs that it would then jack up prices for,” the Maryland Democrat told Shkreli.