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Lawmakers Look Into Soaring EpiPen Prices

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Mylan, the manufacturer of EpiPens, is under fire as US lawmakers demand an explanation for its 450% price increase since 2004.

Members of Congress are heading inquiries into the company after consumers complained that the allergy auto-injector’s price had hiked up by $100 in recent month, for no obvious reasons. An EpiPen cost around $100 back in 2004 and is now sold at over $600, the Washington Post reports.

Many consumers had not noticed the increase as Mylan added 9-15% gradually, and insurance companies paid the difference. But with the changes in health plans and deductibles, the costs of drugs have been shifted onto consumers, who have become increasingly aware of sudden price inflations.

Parents who use EpiPens as emergency treatments for their kids with allergies were shocked to find that two 2-pack EpiPens cost over a thousand dollars. The injectors have become standard-issue in American schools, and families usually stockpile them. Last year, more than 3.6 million prescriptions for EpiPens were filled.

Outrage over EpiPen prices has quickly spread, fueled by reports that the epinephrine itself — the anti-allergy medication in EpiPens — isn’t expensive, costing only about a dollar per dose. By contrast, EpiPens in Canada cost little over $100.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, head of the Judiciary Committee, was the most recent lawmaker to demand an answer from Mylan. He sent a letter to the company, asking for a justification on the price hikes.

Grassley wrote,

Access to epinephrine can mean the difference between life and death, especially for children. It follows that many of the children who are prescribed EpiPens are covered by Medicaid, and therefore, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for this medication.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, whose child uses EpiPens, had called for a Judiciary Committee inquiry and a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the matter.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut likewise wrote letters to Mylan. Warner, too, has a child with severe allergies and relies on EpiPens.

Representative Grace Meng from New York, the co-chair of the Congressional Kids Safety Caucus, asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for a hearing on the matter.

For its part, Mylan says that the prices are due to “product improvements,” and that most EpiPens are covered by insurance and that there are company discounts consumers can avail of. It also has savings programs for patients and gives free EpiPens to schools.

The negative attention has affected Mylan’s Wall Street shares, sending them down 5% and cutting its market value by some $1.2 billion. Much of Mylan’s rapid expansion and price increases are attributed to CEO Heather Bresch, who took over in 2007 and has raised Mylan’s sales and worth by billions.

Other companies such as Sanofi’s Auvi-Q and Adamis Pharmaceuticals have attempted to break into the EpiPen market, but efforts have been hampered. Sanofi had to pull out its products due to suspected malfunctions, and Adamis is still awaiting FDA approval on its low-cost EpiPen option.

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