Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is among a number of members of Congress demanding an investigation into the astonishing rise in the price of a lifesaving device, known as an EpiPen. We would urge the Senator to expand the inquiry to more than one company.
Most of those with severe allergies, the kind that can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock, are familiar with the EpiPen, since many carry one or more at all times. The devices deliver a pre-determined dose of epinephrine, which acts quickly to reverse the effects of the allergic reaction. Unfortunately, the epinephrine deteriorates so the devices must be replaced about once a year, even if unused.
The manufacture of the drug is inexpensive and the cost of a dose is less than a dollar. The device itself is old technology. The company which currently manufactures and sells the device, known as Mylan, purchased the product about ten years. At that time, the pen sold for about $50. Ten years later, it’s more than $300 at most locations, which now come almost exclusively in two-packs, so the typical cost is actually $600 to obtain one.
The cost of manufacturing and distribution isn’t fueling the skyrocketing price for the pen. It’s sheer greed.
And it’s not just EpiPens. According to a report issued by a Wells Fargo senior analyst in June, and reported this week by NBC News, the Netherlands-based Mylan has jacked up prices in 2016 alone by more than 20 percent on 24 of the medical products it sells and by more than 100 percent on seven products. The company’s CEO Heather Bresch, meanwhile, has enjoyed a 700 percent pay increase between 2007 and 2015.
We have little doubt that a federal investigation will uncover price-gouging by Mylan. The company is simply extorting hard-earned money from U.S. citizens, or their insurers, who have little choice but to pay the bill.
But rather than focusing on a single company, Congress should recognize the systemic flaws in the American health care system, and the profit motive that is undermining the lives of the vast majority of Americans. Pharmaceutical companies have a license to steal in the United States, so it’s no wonder that foreign companies, like Mylan, see America as a place to plunder and pillage.
In other countries, the EpiPen remains inexpensive, because in other countries, the government doesn’t allow drug companies to abuse their citizens and send the cost of health care for all through the roof. It’s no wonder that America’s health care system is nearly twice as expensive as most other developed countries. The drug industry is extremely profitable and they pour millions into lobbying and into campaign contributions to members of Congress. In the case of Mylan, the connections go even deeper— the CEO is the daughter of Joe Manchin, a Democratic U.S. Senator from West Virginia. Manchin’s constituents, in other words, are being gouged by his own daughter’s company.
We’ve already seen that the price of health insurance is skyrocketing again, after slowing somewhat with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The ever-rising cost of prescription drugs is fueling that cost spiral, and it won’t stop until Congress does what every respectable government on the planet has already done— which is set limits on drug prices.
Without reasonable price controls, companies have no reason not to charge ever higher prices, particularly when they can corner the market on certain drugs. Just ask Martin Shkreli, the former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO who became notorious when he bragged about his own company’s price-gouging.
Most drug company CEOs are smart enough not to let the cat out of the bag. But Martin Shkreli’s offense was simply admitting the dirty little secret of the drug industry globally. America, thanks to its own government, has been left wide open for victimization. That’s the reality that Sen. Klobuchar and others should really be investigating.