Price of EpiPens spikes, causing major health concerns

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EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers are seen in Washington, U.S. August 24, 2016.  REUTERS/Jim Bourg - RTX2MWU3

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: anger, criticism and concern over the soaring cost for a life-saving allergy shot.

John Yang has the story.

JOHN YANG: The price of EpiPens has jumped more than 400 percent since 2009. Back then, pharmacies paid $103 for a set of two. As of May, the price had spiked to $608.

Mylan, the drug company that bought EpiPens in 2007, says nearly 80 percent of commercially insured patients don’t pay anything at all, and they have given away hundreds of thousands of EpiPens for free. But more than 3.5 million prescriptions were written last year, and some consumers are paying hundreds of dollars, depending on their insurance coverage.

Now the issue is attracting political attention. Today, Hillary Clinton called the price hikes outrageous, and senators from both parties are calling for hearings and explanations from the company.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota joins us now.

Senator Klobuchar, everyone has known someone, as we were talking about earlier, knows someone who is carrying one of these EpiPens. But you have got very direct personal experience.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-Minn): Yes, John.

My daughter, Abigail, when she was just 4 or 5 years old, we gave her a cashew. We were in the middle of the North Woods, and she could hardly breathe. And I literally remember every mile of that nearly hour-long drive to the hospital, not knowing if she would make it.

And that started our journey with allergies. She still carries an EpiPen today. When she was growing up, we all had to learn how to stick it into her thigh. And that’s how it is for so many parents and so many patients that carry those today.

So, to go from $100 to $600, a 400 to 500 percent price increase, to go from 9 percent profit margin in 2008 to 55 percent in 2014, which this company did, to me, this is an outrage. And it really is not an isolated incident. We’re seeing other companies do this as well, pharmaceutical companies, with lifesaving drugs every day.

JOHN YANG: We should say that we invited Mylan to join us here today. They said they couldn’t make anyone available today.

They did issue a statement. They talked about the changes they have made in the product over the years, but they also pointed to the insurance companies, the changing nature of the insurance companies, with the growth of high-deductible plans.

They said: “This current and ongoing shift has presented new challenges for consumers, and now they are bearing more of the cost.”

What’s your response? What’s your reaction to that?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: OK.

Well, first of all, they probably have made some improvements, but there is no way those improvements are at a 500 percent margin on that — the original product. How could they be 500 percent more than the product itself in terms of the value? That makes no sense to me.

Secondly, when it comes to the fact that they have been selling these things at this high price, and they blame insurance companies and government and everyone else, their profit margin is the one that’s gone up. They’re the ones that made more money.

And the fact that you have these high-deductible plan, it just means consumers are starting to see what they have charged for years. Before, it was buried. Before, the taxpayers were paying it, because the companies were paying it or the government was paying it. And that doesn’t at all take away from the fact that you can get their exact same product for hundreds of dollars less in Canada.

They are making money off the backs of people with allergies, and particularly families with kids with allergies that really have to buy not just two of these, but four of them, six of them a year because they have to have some at school, they have to have some in their bags, they have to have some at grandma’s. Things get lost.

And this is not the product they should have chosen to make these dramatic price increases in.

JOHN YANG: Something you just said, you said that this same product is being said in Canada for how much?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Hundreds of dollars less. Of course, it varies.

I have had a lot of people write in to my Facebook page that they can get it online from a Canadian pharmacy in Australia for $180. And one of the bills I have with John McCain, which we’re really trying to push through, would be to allow competitive prices, competitive products, reimportation of products from Canada.

JOHN YANG: You’re the ranking Democrat on the Antitrust Committee of the Judiciary Committee. You have called for hearings. You have called for the FTC to look into this. What else can you do? What can you do as — in Congress?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, I just keep talking about it and going to my colleagues and saying, this is getting to the point now where we have to have a vote on this. We have to pass something.

And I’m going to continue to do that. I think having regular people call in to their members of Congress is going to make a big difference here. Any of these bills would be helpful, but I think the most helpful, as we go into a new year and a new administration, would be negotiations under Medicare Part D for the problem as a whole, where you have seen, you know, 100 percent increase in four of the top 10 drugs in just the last few years.

And negotiations under Medicare Part D would harness the power of all of America’s seniors. Those prices go down, and then it helps with other insurance plans as well.

JOHN YANG: Senator, I have to ask you, one fact that’s getting a lot of attention is that the CEO of this company is the daughter of one of your Democratic colleagues, the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. Is this an issue or something you would talk to Senator Manchin about?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, no, Senator Manchin has always kept an arm’s length with me when dealing with any issues with this company.

So I haven’t seen this as something where he’s been somehow carrying the water for his daughter or improperly involved. So, I want to make that clear.

But, at the same time, pharma as a whole, there is absolutely no doubt they have been against all these bills I just mentioned, many of which are bipartisan. And so it is time to get votes on these bills and to move forward, as well as have an investigation into this individual case with EpiPen.

JOHN YANG: Senator Klobuchar, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: It was good to be on. Thanks for covering this important issue.

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