Over the past few weeks, EpiPens have slowly overtaken the news. So what is going on with them exactly?
What’s happening with EpiPens?
Last year, Bloomberg broke the story that the pharmaceutical company Mylan had turned EpiPens into a cash cow of a business since it bought the product in 2007. In the past few weeks, those claims have come back to public attention.
Mylan, a huge international pharmaceutical company, has slowly raised the price of EpiPens from an average of $50 in 2007 to more than $300 today. Sold only in two-packs another change in the past decade EpiPens can cost as much as $600.
In the last few months alone, the price of EpiPens has gone up $100.
Who needs EpiPens?
EpiPens are a necessity for many people with a serious allergy. The life-saving drug is injected into someone suffering a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, in most cases to a type of food or bee sting. The reaction can narrow the breathing airway, sometimes making it impossible to breathe.
Most people with allergies need to own more than one EpiPen to keep at school and at home, for example, or in case a second shot is needed.
EpiPen is a brand name for an epinephrine autoinjector, but the EpiPen is by far the most common form. If families can’t afford EpiPens, it’s downright dangerous for people especially children with serious allergies.
There have been alternatives on the market, but most have failed. One notable competitor, Auvi-Q, burst onto the scene with high potential but sputtered when it faced a catastrophic recall in early 2016.
Epinephrine the active drug in an EpiPen is basically the same in every version, but the pen itself is patented technology.
The generic version of the product is called Adrenaclick, but doctors are often reluctant to recommend it since most people are trained to use EpiPens in time-sensitive, emergency situations.
At least 3.6 million Americans use EpiPens.
How did this happen?
When Mylan acquired the EpiPen, the drug didn’t turn much of a profit. Then, the company hit on a massively successful marketing campaign that used fear of child allergies to sell more EpiPens. The company’s revenue from EpiPens is now over $1 billion, compared to $200 million in 2007.
Since then, the price of EpiPens has risen more than 400 percent. The outrageous price hike is being compared to the hike to HIV drugs instituted by the infamous “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli.
Shkreli himself called Mylan “vultures” for their price hike, although he also defended the company.
The EpiPen doesn’t have any serious competition in the market, allowing its price increases to continue unchecked.
Why is this getting attention now?
EpiPens are usually covered by insurance, so many consumers didn’t notice the huge increases until their insurance deductibles started going up. Changes in how many insurance companies treat deductibles and co-pays have now passed the cost onto consumers. Now that deductibles have spiked along with the base price, consumers are taking notice.
At the same time, many parents are buying EpiPens right now to send to school with their children a requirement for any student with allergies at many schools.
Why are people so mad?
The EpiPen is a life-saving product that families count on to live with allergies. While the price of an EpiPen has risen exponentially, the components of an EpiPen have remained basically the same. A single EpiPen injects $1 worth of epinephrine.
At the same time that Mylan hiked prices on EpiPens, the company’s executives have gotten huge raises. Over the past eight years, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s compensation inflated from $2.5 million to nearly $19 million, including bonuses.
EpiPens now account for at least 40 percent of Mylan’s operating profits.
Who’s involved in this?
Mylan’s actions have woven a complicated web of players. Most notably, Bresch, Mylan’s CEO, is the daughter of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Machin’s colleagues in the Senate are calling for investigations into Mylan’s practices.
What has Mylan said about all of this?
Mylan put out a statement responding to criticism on Monday.
Mylan has worked tirelessly over the past several years advocating for increased anaphylaxis awareness, preparedness and access to treatment for those living with potentially life-threatening (severe) allergies.Ensuring access to epinephrine the only first-line treatment for anaphylaxis is a core part of our mission,” the company said. “We are proud of the programs which we have implemented over the past several years to help support access to treatment, including our My EpiPen Savings Card, a patient assistance program, and the EpiPen4Schools program which provides free EpiPen (epinephrine injection, USP) Auto-Injectors to U.S. schools.”
Mylan also noted the changes in insurance policies that have raised deductibles for consumers.
What’s happening now?
Lawmakers Republicans and Democrats are calling for investigations into Mylan.
Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have all sent letters to Mylan. Grassley and Warner requested information about how Mylan decides the cost of EpiPens, and Blumenthal demanded the company lower the drug’s price.
Sen.Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is asking the Federal Trade Commission and Senate Judiciary Committee toinquire into the Mylan’s practices.
A petition asking Congress to act on EpiPen price hikes has 84,000 signatures.
But for now, the price of an EpiPen remains extremely high. Some parents are going to the store to buy EpiPens for their children, seeing prices of more than $1,000, and turning right back around.
Amie Vialet De Montbel, a Virginia mom whose 12-year-old son is severely allergic to milk, told the health and medicine news site Stat News that she left the store without buying the two two-packs of EpiPens she needed when she found they would cost $1,212. Her insurance has a $4,000 deductible, so she would have had to pay the entire cost herself.
I dont even pay that much for my mortgage,” she said.