Senators Demand Mylan Lower Cost Of Life-Saving Epipens, Call For Congressional Hearing

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The cost of a life-saving EpiPen from drug maker Mylan increased as much as 600% in just nine years. That’s simply too much, lawmakers say, with some legislators now calling on the pharmaceutical giant to drop its price immediately, while others are pushing for a congressional hearing on the matter. 

On Monday, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal demanded in a letter [PDF] sent to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch that the company lower the price for the EpiPen drug it acquired from Merck nearly a decade ago.

“Due to Mylan’s virtual monopoly of the epinephrine auto-injector market and its unique life-saving attribute, it is crucial that your product remains affordable for all Americans,” Blumenthal wrote. “Therefore, I demand that Mylan take immediate action to lower the price of EpiPens for all Americans that rely on this product for their health and safety.”

The auto-injector pen contains about a $1 dose of the drug epinepherine, yet somehow costs 400% more on the wholesale market, and the cost to insurance companies and patients forced to pay retail has probably increased even more.

Prices for the medication, which is essential for anyone with severe allergies in preventing anaphylaxis, began to jump shortly after Merck ditched the auto-injector — which sold for around $60 at the time — finding it wasn’t a big money-maker, at least not then.

Different sources list different prices, but the cash price for an EpiPen has increased somewhere between 400% and 600% in the last decade. Today, a pack of two pens can cost hundreds of dollars at retail.

“I was both shocked and dismayed to discover that the price of your product, which has not been improved upon in any obvious or significant way, has skyrocketed by 480% since 2009,” Blumenthal wrote.

While the EpiPen is a 25-year-old device, there is no direct generic equivalent, as pointed out by Blumenthal.

There is only other auto-injector equivalent to EpiPens, Adrenaclick, but it can be difficult for consumers to get their hands on it, as you can’t just receive one at the pharmacy when your doctor has prescribed EpiPens.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports checked prices for the device and found it cost less than half as much as the EpiPen.

“The drug epinephrine costs, literally, pennies to make. Yet we’ve heard from people who have to choose between EpiPens for their children or school supplies, or they just go without because they just can’t afford it,” Lisa Gill, deputy editor for CR Best Buy Drugs, tells Consumerist. “But there is an alternative, generic Adrenaclick, which is the same drug but a different type of self-injector that could save consumers hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars a year.”

In his letter to Mylan, Blumenthal notes that he often hears from Connecticut families concerned with the price of the EpiPen.

The mother of two children with life threatening allergies told Blumenthal recently that she spends more than $2,000 on the devices each year, but sometimes is forced to carry “expired EpiPens because we cannot always afford the new ones.”

Blumenthal’s concerns were echoed by New York Representative Grace Meng on Tuesday as she called for a congressional hearing to address Mylan’s price increase for the EpiPen.

Meng sent a letter [PDF] to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requesting a hearing.

“As a mother, and as a Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Kids’ Safety Caucus, I urge my colleagues on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to look into the recent price increase of EpiPens,” said Meng. “The free market can be a wonderful engine for good in our society, and it has certainly led to the production of countless medical innovations. We must be vigilant, however, to not cross the line of price-gouging, especially when a product has been around for a generation and is incredibly cheap to produce.”