n the face of withering criticism, Mylan Pharmaceuticals took steps Thursday to make its EpiPen device more affordable. Specifically, the company is increasing the amount of money on a copay assistance card from $100 to $300, and is also widening eligibility for patients to receive the device through that assistance program.
“We recognize the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter. Patients deserve increased price transparency and affordable care, particularly as the system shifts significant costs to them,” Mylan Chief Executive officer Heather Bresch said in a statement.
These moves do not actually involve lowering the $600 list price, which has been rising steadily in recent years and caused consternation among parents across the country. The EpiPen contains an old drug, epinephrine, that is widely used to combat sudden allergic reactions that can be life-threatening, and its dominant position in the marketplace meant that many consumers were straining to pay for the device.
By expanding programs that can help patients pay for its device, Mylan is trying to say that it is addressing the issue of affordability. And in doing so, Mylan hopes to blunt further damage to its reputation, which has taken a beating this week as one lawmaker after another publicly demanded the company lower the price, provide data to justify its pricing, and prepare for congressional hearings.
The rebukes appeared to reach a crescendo Wednesday when Hillary Clinton called the EpiPen price hikes “outrageous,” triggering yet another slide in biopharma stocks as investors braced for a new round of finger-pointing and negative news streaming from Washington.
“When an allergic reaction leads to anaphylactic shock, a shot of epinephrine can literally be the difference between life and death,” Clinton said. “But now, just as parents are about to send kids with severe food and insect allergies back to school, the EpiPen’s manufacturer is hiking its price to an all-time high. That’s outrageous. And it’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers.”
To what extent these moves will succeed in forestalling further attacks is uncertain. If consumers start to register fewer complaints, then Mylan may have won a battle, if not the war, over its pricing. Most likely, lawmakers will still want to probe the company, since they are, effectively, using Mylan as the latest proxy for attacking rising prescription drug costs, which is an ongoing issue.
Mylan, meanwhile, is also trying to shift the conversation to insurance coverage. In her statement, Bresch argued that “price is only one part of the problem that we are addressing with today’s actions.” The company maintains that private insurers too often fail to sufficiently cover the EpiPen, and high deductibles are burdens that contribute to the larger problem.
“It was never intended that a consumer — the patient — would be paying this price,” Bresch said in a Thursday morning interview with CNBC.
She acknowledged that rising drug costs are a problem that results from a system that incentivizes higher prices. This is strikingly different from how the pharmaceutical industry responded to last year’s controversy over price hikes by Valeant and Turing, with the industry group PhRMA painting the companies as exceptions to the rule rather than victims of a broken system.
Bresch said that she is ready to work with Congress to fix the system, and that other key players, like pharmacy benefit managers, retail pharmacies, and doctors, also need to be part of the conversation.