If Mylan Pharmaceuticals executives thought their recent steps to lower the cost of its lifesaving EpiPen device would mollify Congress, they were wrong. Two different groups of lawmakers sent separate letters Tuesday demanding the drug maker provide a trove of data about various moves that were made to widen access to the device in the face of intense criticism over pricing.
The missives signal intensifying interest by Congress in the controversy over the auto-injector, which has become the latest proxy for the national debate over the cost of prescription medicines. Since buying EpiPen from another company in 2007, Mylan has continually raised the list price by 548 percent to more than $600.
However, those price hikes caught up with the company this month as parents encountered sticker shock in time for the back-to-school season. Mylan responded by expanding its discount card and assistance programs, but the moves have done nothing to deflect skepticism from many lawmakers. In one letter, a group of 20 US Senators acknowledged these moves will help some patients.
But they dismissed Mylan’s plan to make EpiPen more affordable as a “well-defined industry tactic to keep costs high through a complex shell game.” All of the lawmakers signing this letter were Democrats, such as Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal, as well as independent Bernie Sanders.
However, “when patients receive short-term co-pay assistance for expensive drugs, they may be insulated from price hikes, but insurance companies, the government, and employers still bear the burden of these excessive prices. In turn, those costs are eventually passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums,” their letter stated.
They also questioned the extent to which a $300 generic version that Mylan plans to sell will lower consumer costs, since availability is uncertain. The senators then chastised the company for pricing the generic at a price that is three times the cost of its own branded version back in 2007, when the product was purchased from another manufacturer. They noted that Mylan maintained its generic will be “identical to the branded product.”
The other letter was sent by three House Democrats, who challenged the beleaguered company to reconcile its EpiPen pricing history with a stated mission to ensuring access to the auto-injector, which is used by people who have life-threatening allergic reactions.