You have probably heard by now about the great big fuck-tussle over the huge price increases on the EpiPen, that lifesaving device that keeps people with severe allergic reactions from dying of anaphylactic shock. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes the device, has steadily raised the price since buying the rights to it in 2007 — even though the pens were essentially unchanged for years. The things sold to pharmacies at about $100 for a two-pen pack in 2007, then Mylan steadily started jacking up the price. This causes a bit of a problem for patients who need to have them on hand, what with the whole “only thing that stands between life and death” thing:
By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.
Doctors advise allergic patients to carry two EpiPens with them at all times in case an extra dose is needed to quell a severe reaction. Most parents buy multiple EpiPens for home, in the car and school and may replace them annually, depending on the expiration date.
Thursday, The CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, who happens to be the daughter of West Virginia “Democratic” Sen. Joe Manchin, went on CNBC to defend not only her company’s price increases on a device that’s been on the market, unchanged, for years, but also her own whopping increase in salary, from $2.5 million in 2007 to $18.9 million in 2015. It was all good, she insisted, because hasn’t anyone noticed what a wonderful lifesaving device the EpiPen is?
“We’re manufacturing the product, distributing the product, enhancing the product, investing,” she explained. “When we took over this product eight years ago, there was very, very little awareness. We have doubled the lives of patients who are carrying an EpiPen. We have passed legislation in 48 states to allow undesignated EpiPens to be in schools.”
And that justifies the price increase how, exactly? Apparently, it cost a hell of a lot to lobby for the laws to be changed, although probably a lot of parents were pushing for schools to have the things on hand, too. CNBC’s Brian Sullivan pointed out that people are just a tad frustrated that the cost just went through the roof for a product they need to keep on hand for saving their kids’ lives, at which point Bresch had her Tony Hayward moment, although at least she didn’t wish she had her life back:
Look, no one is more frustrated than I am … Everybody should be frustrated; I am hoping this is an inflection point for this country. Our healthcare is in a crisis in this country.
Yeah, possibly because people see pharmaceutical companies gouging them. She never quite explained why any of that justified the price increases, except Reasons. Sullivan tried another tack, asking her to explain her own colossal salary increases. That went about equally well, if by “well” you mean “totally avoiding the question”:
Mylan CEO on her salary increasing as EpiPen prices rose: “I understand…that facts are inconvenient to headlines” pic.twitter.com/FGXCZtjbjA
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) August 25, 2016
“I understand better than anyone that facts are inconvenient to headlines,” she said. “I want to change this conversation. First of all, so everyone has access. Let’s talk about, the last eight years, what we’ve done to make sure the people who need it have it. When we passed legislation in 48 states to ensure that schools can have EpiPens, we have given out 700,000 free EpiPens… They need to be everywhere, because when you need them, seconds count.”
Well in that case, totally worth all the money you’re getting!
In the face of a severely allergic reaction in the stock market, Mylan did announce Thursday that it would give $300 savings cards to people who are paying for EpiPens out of pocket, which should help out some but not all of the consumers who’ve been priced out of having the devices on hand. Hooray, now it’s only three times the price it was seven years ago! But the list price will remain the same, so Mylan can still gouge insurance companies and make all our costs go up, as God and the free market intended.
So what does Joe Manchin think of how his darling daughter is making out in the pharmaceuticals and public relations racket? After days of silence, during which colleagues have called for hearings into the apparent price gouging, Manchin released a brief statement that doesn’t mention his family connection to Mylan at all:
“I am aware of the questions my colleagues and many parents are asking and frankly I share their concerns about the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs,” Manchin said. “Today I heard Mylan’s initial response, and I am sure Mylan will have a more comprehensive and formal response to those questions. I look forward to reviewing their response in detail and working with my colleagues and all interested parties to lower the price of prescription drugs and to continue to improve our health care system.”
Ah! We see where she got her gift for avoiding questions, then.
Maybe Manchin will solve the problem by shooting at an editorial condemning the price hikes.