The rising cost of a lifesaving drug is putting the spotlight on corporate greed and whether or not Congress has any power to control pharmaceutical companies who raise prices on drugs arbitrarily.
Parents of children who suffer from life-threatening allergies are alarmed and angry over the pharmaceutical company, Mylan, who has raised the price on EpiPens from $100.00 to $600.00. On Monday August 22, Congress decided they had to get involved. Wednesday, the White House weighed in on the rate increases that White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said, “the price hike “raises significant questions, even moral questions, in the minds of a lot of people.”
There are about 3.6 million people in the U.S. with severe allergies to food or bee-stings; having a prescription EpiPen on hand can be a matter of life or death. Allergic reactions lead to about 200,000 emergency hospital visits per year in the United States. With the continuing price increases by Mylan, members of Congress are demanding answers but are in an uncomfortable position due to the fact that Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, happens to be the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Although Bresch has a father who is a senator, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) each have written letters to Mylan, and have asked about the company’s pricing data. The Congressmen have also requested information about how costs are determined and alternative payment options for patients. In addition, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) requested that the US Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Judiciary Commission inquire about the price increases.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said Tuesday in a statement, noting that he is a parent of a child with severe allergies, “I am deeply concerned by this significant price increase for a product that has been on the market for more than three decades, and by Mylan’s failure to publicly explain the recent cost increase, which places a significant burden on parents, schools and other purchasers of the EpiPen.”
Congress also sees another problem with the rising costs of the EpiPen. Mylan paid over $4 million in 2012 and 2013 to lobby Congress to have schools institute the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which basically put EpiPens in every school across the nation. Mylan also was the top corporate sponsor of a group called Food Allergy Research & Education that was the key lobbyist pushing for the bill encouraging schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors, of which EpiPen is by far the leading product. With that act, Mylan became the beneficiary of a great sum of tax dollars with school districts paying for their products. It also allowed patients on Medicaid to receive their medication at no cost for the patient but plenty for the taxpayer.
Wednesday, Josh Earnest, speaking for the White House, stated that “Companies that develop and market life-saving medication often do real damage to their reputation by being greedy and jacking up prices in a way that victimizes vulnerable Americans.” Earnest said he wasn’t aware of any Obama administration investigation or enforcement action into the Epi-Pen pricing but Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Mylan’s steep price increases violated antitrust laws.
Meanwhile, parents are scrambling to find a way to afford the price hike before the school year begins. Mylan has responded to the criticism by posting on their website that the company, “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.”
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