WASHINGTON – Mylan, the embattled drug company whose price hikes of an anti-allergy product sparked calls for a government investigation and a congressional hearing has announced plans to broaden discounts offered to consumers on its EpiPen.
The company said Thursday that it will increase the value of a savings coupon offered on an epinephrine auto injector to $300 from $100 and double the eligibility for subsidies that eliminate out-of-pocket costs to uninsured or underinsured patients.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota welcomed the news, but said the country “cannot rely on public outcry as the only solution for high prescription drug prices.”
Klobuchar reiterated calls for a Federal Trade Commission investigation and a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to explore why Mylan raised the price of EpiPens from $100 in 2008 to $500-$600 in 2016.
In a statement Thursday, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), called the company’s new initiative an attempt to make sure that “everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one.”
Still, Bresch called pricing “only one part of the problem.” She pointed to “a significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and [patients] being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter.”
The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a free market think tank, warned that focusing on a single company and a single product was “a perfect storm of stupidity.” The center said the Food and Drug Administration must approve all drugs faster to get alternative treatments on the market that increase competition and drive down prices. The group also blamed health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers for “pocketing” savings negotiated with drugmakers instead of passing them on to consumers.
In an interview, Klobuchar agreed the issue of drug pricing is “much broader” than EpiPens.
“If it just stops here, it is a failure,” she said.
But Klobuchar believes that calling out Mylan for raising EpiPen prices was necessary to “capture people’s attention” and move to a general discussion. She still believes a Federal Trade Commission investigation is needed to determine if Mylan violated antitrust laws.
“Otherwise,” she said, “history will repeat itself” with price gouging in other drugs.
Klobuchar hopes to pass a series of bills aimed at increasing competition in the drug market. The pharmaceutical industry has so far opposed all of those laws.
At the University of Minnesota medical school, Dr. Doug McMahon carries an epinephrine injector of his own design to guard against reactions to his food allergies.
McMahon says Mylan would never have dropped its EpiPen cost without the criticism it drew from members of Congress in the past week. “It’s opening people’s eyes,” he said.
What he would like them to see in addition is the time and cost it takes to offer alternative products.
McMahon is on an FDA “fast track” to make his AllergyStop product available. But it will still take “at least two years and $3 million to take our product to market.”
Meanwhile, Mylan continues to control roughly 85 percent of the epinephrine auto injector market. The company’s dominance arose when a French company that offered an alternative had to recall its product because of dosage measurement problems. Meanwhile, the FDA delayed approval of an Israeli company’s generic version of EpiPen because of what regulators called deficiencies.
A third product, Adrenaclick, is much cheaper than EpiPen and is recommended by Consumer Reports. But that product, which Consumer Reports says costs $140-$205 after coupons, operates slightly differently from EpiPen and requires a specific prescription or the willingness of pharmacies to substitute a generic for EpiPen.