In a rerun of last summer's political interference in pharmaceutical pricing spearheaded by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, which initially focused on Martin Shrekli's price hike of the Turing Pharmaceuticals Daraprim drug, then shifted to Allergan (and everyone knows what happened after), over the past few days much of the media's attention has focused on the ongoing cost increases of Mylan's Epipen.
As NBC wrote last Friday, a growing chorus is calling on the Mylan pharmaceutical company to justify its price hikes on EpiPens, a potentially life-saving medication for children and others facing fatal allergies that has little real competition.
In 2007, a two-pack of the epinephrine-filled devices went for $56.64 wholesale, according to data gathered by Connecture, a health insurance technology and data analytics company. Now it's jumped to $365.16, an increase of 544.77 percent. Since the end of 2013, the price has gone up by 15 percent every other quarter.
And, echoring the public outcry following Turing's 2015 price increase for its toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim, doctors, parents, patients, and a former presidential candidate are speaking out on social media — and negative comments are filling up Mylan's Facebook page following an NBC story.
Ironically, even Martin Shkreli has chimed in: "These guys are really vultures. What drives this company's moral compass?" he told NBC News in a phone interview. In 2015, Shkreli famously jacked up the price of Turing's malaria and HIV medicine Darapim overnight, from $13.50 to $750, a move that earned him a grilling by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February — and the nickname "Pharma Bro" for his seemingly carefree attitude toward affordable medication.
But Shkreli told NBC News he had originally considered gradually raising the price of Darapim, as Mylan did with the EpiPen. Ultimately, "the math, we felt, was a little silly; so we decided to come out and say 'This is our desired price.'"
Just like last year, Bernie Sanders got involved too:
There's no reason an EpiPen, which costs Mylan just a few dollars to make, should cost families more than $600. https://t.co/rVWUlMxD0Q— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 18, 2016
So, to keep the analogy with the summer of 2015 complete, where numerous angry congressional letters and hearing followed, moments ago two senior U.S. senators are examining Mylan NV’s price increases for the popular EpiPen allergy shot, with one Republican saying the drugmaker’s practices may have limited access to the treatment.
Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, asked the drugmaker to explain “a steep price increase in the product in recent years,” citing complaints from constituents who say they have to pay as much as $500 for one of the pens. Grassley heads the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
“The substantial price increase could limit access to a much-needed medication,” Grassley wrote to Mylan Chief Executive officer Heather Bresch in an Aug. 22 letter.
Following the news of the letter, Mylan shares promptly fell 1.5% below $48.
As Bloomberg adds, in a separate letter Monday, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Mylan’s practices with regards to EpiPen’s price. She called for the FTC to look into whether Mylan had done anything to deny competitors access to the market in order to keep raising prices.
EpiPen is a self-administered injection of epinephrine, a drug that can be used to treat allergic reactions from bee stings, food allergies or other triggers. Since acquiring the drug in 2007, Mylan has raised the price several times, up from about $57 a shot when it first took over sales of the product, a review of pricing data by Bloomberg found.
Mylan spokeswoman Nina Devlin declined to comment specifically on the letters. The company says that it offers several programs to help people afford the drug. “Ensuring access to epinephrine -- the only first-line treatment for anaphylaxis -- is a core part of our mission.
The biggest irony, however, just like last year, is that it is the permissive government regulations and the US reimbursement system that allows pharma companies like Mylan to charge as much as they want, and - mostly - get away with it.
However, since that particular system is too big, and too unwieldy to change, it appears that Mylan will be this year's sacrificial distraction, meant to placate the public, even as the underlying problem with the US healthcare system remain largely unchanged.
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Grassley's full letter to Mylan is below: