The maker of the allergy emergency product EpiPen announced that it would offer rebates to lower the cost for some consumers, in the face of outrage over the price of the syringe-like device. EpiPens, used to treat a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, have surged in price by 500 percent over nine years, from around $100 for a two-pack in 2007 to more than $600 in May.
The company, Mylan, has faced growing criticism from consumers and lawmakers over the price. It announced on Wednesday that it would increase the ceiling of its copay assistance program to $300 from $100 for consumers who have commercial health insurance or pay for the EpiPens in cash. That effectively reduces the $600 price tag by 50 percent for those consumers.
Mylan, based in New York, also said it would double the number of people eligible for the company's patient assistance program, which will eliminate out-of-pocket costs for uninsured and underinsured patients and families.
Those who rely on government-paid programs will not be eligible for the copay assistance.
'This step seems like a PR fix more than a real remedy, masking an exorbitant and callous price hike'
In an appearance on CNBC, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch blamed the health care system for the high prices, and said the rebates were intended to "help ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one."
"No one's more frustrated than me," said Bresch, whose salary jumped from $2.4 million in 2007 to $18,931,068 in 2015, a 671 percent increase. She is also the daughter of West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. "I am aware of the questions my colleagues and many parents are asking," Manchin said in a statement on Thursday, "and frankly, I share their concerns about the skyrocketing prices of healthcare products."
"The patient is paying twice," Bresch told CNBC. "They're paying full retail price at the counter, and they're paying higher premiums on their insurance. It was never intended that a consumer, that the patients would be paying list price, never. The system wasn't built for that."
"I am hoping that this is an inflection point for this country. Our health care is in crisis. It's no different than the mortgage financial crisis back in 2007."
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, told CNN he wasn't convinced by the rebate offers or by Bresch's statement.
"This step seems like a PR fix more than a real remedy, masking an exorbitant and callous price hike," he said. "This baby step should be followed by actual robust action."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized Mylan earlier this week for the high prices, and her campaign fired another attack after the company announced the discount.
"Discounts for selected customers without lowering the overall price of EpiPens are insufficient, because the excessive price will likely be passed on through higher insurance premiums," Clinton campaign spokesman Tyrone Gayle said. "Since there is no apparent justification for the price increase, Mylan should immediately lower the overall price of EpiPens."
EpiPens are merely a convenient and safe delivery device for the drug epinephrine, which costs less than $10 for the same .3 milligram dose that the EpiPen delivers. But consumers have found EpiPens easy to carry and use. The devices offer those with potentially life-threatening allergies to bee stings, shrimp or nuts some peace of mind when far from medical attention.
Mylan has also lobbied in Washington to seek legislation favorable to its business. In 2010 the US Food and Drug Administration recommended that that at-risk patients, and not just those with proven allergies, be prescribed the devices, and that two EpiPens be sold per package, not one. In 2013, Congress passed a law to provide supplies of EpiPens to schools.
Earlier in the week, Senator Amy Klobuchar wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Mylan had conspired to deny competitors access to the market in order to establish a monopoly.
"This outrageous increase in the price of EpiPens is occurring at the same time that Mylan Pharmaceutical is exploiting a monopoly market advantage that has fallen into its lap," Klobuchar said. "Patients all over the US rely on these products, including my own daughter."
Despite the wide availability of epinephrine, there is no generic equivalent to the EpiPen.
French pharmaceutical company Sanofi produced a similar injector last year, but it was recalled. The only alternative that has received Food and Drug Administration approval is the Adrenaclick pen, which is half the price of the EpiPen — but pharmacies cannot fill an EpiPen prescription with Adrenaclick, because it is not a generic.
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