U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has joined the growing chorus blasting pharmaceutical giant Mylan over the skyrocketing cost of EpiPens, calling on the company to immediately lower the price of the life-saving medication.
Mylan has come under fire for raising the price of EpiPens by more than 400 percent over the last seven years. EpiPens, of which Mylan is the sole manufacturer, are auto-injectors that deliver epinephrine – commonly known as adrenaline – to those experiencing life-threatening anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction.
On Wednesday, Blumenthal sent a letter to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch demanding to know why the price has spiked so drastically, and threatening to launch an investigation into potential antitrust violations and illegal trade practices.
The price jumps, he wrote, are making EpiPens unaffordable for many families, schools and first responders. The devices are now only sold in two-packs and each pack typically costs around $600, up from $100 in 2009.
“I was both shocked and dismayed to discover that the price of your product, which has not been improved upon in any obvious or significant way, has skyrocketed by 480 percent since 2009,” Blumenthal said in the letter. “My office has been contacted by dozens of concerned Connecticut residents, families, school nurses and first responders who urgently require your life-saving product but fear that its skyrocketing price has put it out of reach.”
He continued: “I demand that Mylan take immediate action to lower the price of EpiPens for all Americans that rely on this product for their health and safety.”
On Thursday, after Mylan announced plans to expand the company’s “savings card” program, rather than reduce prices for its life-saving drug, Blumenthal called it a a “PR fix.”
“This baby step should be followed by actual robust action,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal has heard from Connecticut families who are carrying expired EpiPens because they can’t afford new ones, he wrote.
For those who need them, it is recommended that EpiPens be replaced each year to ensure they are dosing the epinephrine and otherwise functioning properly. That makes them “an annual burden for many,” Blumenthal wrote.
First responders also are struggling to afford the medication, he said: “First responders in other states have turned to directly injecting epinephrine using syringes, a method that is far less safe but increasingly necessary.”
With ambulances and schools in Connecticut required to stock EpiPens, he said, “the costs that Mylan’s price increases have waged not only on individual families but on each taxpayer in Connecticut is unacceptable.”
Blumenthal co-sponsored a bill passed in 2013 that gives grants to states that require their public elementary schools and secondary schools to maintain a supply of emergency epinephrine. He more recently supported a proposal to require epinephrine on airplanes.
It’s not the first time Blumenthal has questioned a drugmaker when it comes to medication pricing or shortages. He has called for an investigation into the rising cost of Naloxone, which is used to counteract the effects of opioid overdoses, and into shortages of saline, a basic drug with multiple uses and is in short supply at many hospitals.
Blumenthal asked Bresch to answer several questions by Sept. 5: whether Mylan has plans to offer additional programs to help consumers afford EpiPens, whether the company has financial assistance programs to help first responders afford them, and whether the company will consider selling single pens again for those who don’t need a two-pack.
Citing company filings, reports this week said Bresch received hefty pay increases as the cost of EpiPens soared. NBC News was first to report that she earned $2.4 million when she was president in 2007 and made $18.9 million last year as CEO.
As pressure on the company mounts, Mylan issued a statement Monday that said, in part: “Mylan has worked tirelessly over the past several years advocating for increased anaphylaxis awareness, preparedness and access to treatment for those living with potentially life-threatening (severe) allergies. Ensuring access to epinephrine, the only first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, is a core part of our mission.”
In recent years the company introduced its My EpiPen Savings Card, a patient assistance program, and the statement said that in 2015 about 80 percent of commercially insured patients using the card got EpiPens at no cost.
“With the current changes in the health care insurance landscape, an increasing number of people and families have enrolled in high-deductible health plans, and deductible amounts continue to rise. This current and ongoing shift has presented new challenges for consumers, and now they are bearing more of the cost.”
“This new change to the industry is not an easy challenge to address, but we recognize the need and are committed to working with customers and payors to find solutions to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve,” the statement said.