It seems unconscionable that a pharmaceutical company with a lifesaving drug that millions of Americans depend on would jack up the price for a pair of autoinjectors from $60 in 2007 to more than $600 now.
But that is what some families are facing with the unreal price increase of EpiPen. It is a vital pocket antidote for people who suffer severe allergies from bee stings, peanuts or other foods. The allergies can cause blood pressure to plunge, hearts to race or airways to close. EpiPens reverse the severe reaction and are vital for people who literally can’t live without them.
The extreme cost increase is making a lot of individuals and families question how they will be able to afford the drug.
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EpiPen is a trademark device made by Mylan N.V. Physicians normally recommend that patients keep two epinephrine, or adrenaline, injectors ready to use for people with life-threatening allergies. For children that means two at home and two at school.
The drug in the device has a shelf life of only about a year, which means parents could face a $1,200 annual bill for EpiPen, which doctors in the U.S. prescribed more than 3.6 million times in 2015.
EpiPen delivers an exact dose of epinephrine, which as a generic drug is worth about $1. Essentially anyone can administer the medication in a crisis by removing the cap and pressing the device against a person’s thigh for a few seconds.
Mylan in 2007 purchased the rights to the autoinjector.
Fortunately some U.S. lawmakers are trying to do something about the excessive cost of EpiPen. It appears to have even unified Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and ranking member of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is calling for hearings in the Judiciary Committee to investigate the price increase. She also said the Federal Trade Commission should “report to Congress on why these outrageous price increases have become common and propose solutions that will better protect consumers within 90 days.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, asked Mylan to explain the steep price increase after families contacted him. He was concerned that the cost “could limit access to a much-needed medication.” Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, also wanted answers from Mylan.
The rising prices of other vital medications have caught the attention of Americans and Congress in recent months. A full-scale review of the financial burdens caused by these costs on the U.S. health care system should be part of congressional hearings in 2017.
Mylanissued its own statement on its “commitment to EpiPen.” It partly blamed changes in the health insurance and the increasing number of people with high deductibles for consumers “bearing more of the cost.”
The firm said it wants to “meet the needs of the patients and families we serve.” It touted the “My EpiPen Savings Card” with which, it said, nearly 80 percent of commercially insured patients in 2015 received EpiPens at no cost. Also since its start in 2012, the “EpiPen4Schools” program has provided more than 700,000 free EpiPens to more than 65,000 schools, the company said.
Still, because of the mushrooming price increase, families that aren’t in any of the Mylan’s programs are grappling with whether to risk doing without EpiPen or letting the autoinjector go beyond the expiration date and hope for good results.
Hope shouldn’t be an option. EpiPen used correctly can be the difference between life or death for children and adults. Bringing down the price and making the company’s cost-savings program more available are potential solutions.