The EpiPen, an easy-to-use injectable shot filled with medicine that can stop a life-threatening allergic reaction, has increased in price from about $100 for a pack of two pens in 2009 to over $600 this year.
Pharmaceutical company Mylan purchased the rights to the pen back in 2007, and it appears that they’ve taken a page from “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli and re-priced their newly acquired product. That is, they’ve spiked prices for no apparent research and development reason related to the product, except perhaps to make up for the tens of millions of dollars they’ve spent on TV commercials to promote it, reports CBS news.
The price spike also coincides with the recall of one of EpiPen’s competitors, the Auvi-Q from the pharmaceutical company Sanofi US. The company recalled their pen in October because of inaccurate dosage issues.
An estimated one in 50 Americans could have anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction to an allergy, according to a study by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America that was sponsored by Sanofi.
Now that the Auvi-Q has left the market, people with severe allergies who need to keep a pen stocked on their person or at work or school are stuck with few options — and expensive ones at that, especially for people with high-deductible insurance plans. Making matters worse is the fact that the pens expire after one year.
Pharmaceutical watchdogs and politicians have weighed in on the price hike, pushing back on Mylan’s pricing scheme and calling for competitors to enter the market.
Shkreli himself also threw his two cents in, using the same argument he used to defend his 5,000-percent percent price hike on Daraprim, a drug for AIDS and cancer patients to which his company acquired the rights in Aug. 2015. He tweeted that epinephrine injectables aren’t lucrative enough to lure competitors into the market, which would presumably bring prices down:
Another epinephrine injectable, Adrenaclick, can cost almost $400 for a two-pack, according to GoodRX.com, a consumer site that lists competitive pharmaceutical prices, and it has a different injection mechanism than the EpiPen. Those who use EpiPens also face an additional barrier because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t consider injectable epinephrine pens as therapeutically equivalent to each other, meaning a prescription for one pen cannot not be filled with a cheaper version. States have to change their own regulatory rules to allow patients to switch one pen for what’s stated on their prescription, and so far only 21 states have done so.
Clinicians wrote over 3.6 million prescriptions for the EpiPen last year, while the Adrenaclick was prescribed only a few hundred times, reports PBS.
Mylan Pharmaceuticals does have an EpiPen Savings Card for eligible patients that reduces the cost of a carton by a maximum of $100. But as users point out, a $100 discount doesn’t mean much when you’re left with the rest of the big bill. Marie Myers, a Facebook user who both uses the EpiPen for herself and buys one for her child, took Mylan Pharmaceuticals to task on the company’s Facebook page two months ago over the relative uselessness of the savings card, which the company calls a “$0 copay” coupon.
I called Mylan about my situation. Explaining that it would cost me $1,251.46 for two packs of epi-pens and the representative pointed me to the “$0 copay” coupon offered. I pointed out that the fine print of that coupon only covers a maximum of $100 per pack of epi pens. Still leaving me on the hook for $1,051.46 for this needed medication. Which still leaves Mylan with a massive profit, and leaves me in a situation where it was unaffordable. The representative admitted Mylan knows those coupons no longer make Epi-pens affordable to the majority of individuals with the new standard of high deductible health plans and stated that at this time Mylan has NO assistance program in place.
In a statement sent to the Huffington Post, Mylan Pharmaceuticals called attention to the fact that they’ve donated more than 650,000 EpiPen and EpiPen Jr auto-Injectors to about half of all U.S. schools nationwide, and that 80 percent of commercially insured patients received the EpiPen for free using the EpiPen savings card.
They also blamed the increased burden of EpiPen costs on the rise of high-deductible health insurance plans in the U.S. From the statement:
We encourage all patients and families to thoroughly review and understand their options when selecting healthcare insurance coverage. With the Affordable Care Act, there are options available. Premiums, prescription coverage, out-of-pocket limits and deductibles can vary widely. Often, plans offering lower premiums have higher deductibles, and many options now have separate pharmacy and medical expense deductibles.