WASHINGTON — The embattled drug company whose price hikes of an anti-allergy product sparked calls for a government investigation and a congressional hearing has announced plans to lower the cost of its EpiPen product to consumers.
The company said Thursday that it will increase the value of a savings coupon offered to purchase its epinephrine auto injector to $300 from $100 and double the eligibility for subsidies that eliminate out-of-pocket costs to uninsured or underinsured patients.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation and a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to explore Mylan's 400 percent price increase for EpiPens since 2008, welcomed the company's move.
But Klobuchar, a Democrat, said the country "cannot rely on public outcry as the only solution for high prescription drug prices."
Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called the move an attempt to make sure that "everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto Injector gets one." But Bresch called pricing "only one part of the problem." She pointed to "a significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and (patients) being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter."
The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest warned that focusing on a single company and a single product was "a perfect storm of stupidity." The center, a free market think tank, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve all drugs faster to get alternative treatments on the market that increase competition and drive down prices. The center also blamed health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers for "pocketing" savings negotiated with drugmakers instead of passing them on to consumers.
In an interview, Klobuchar said the issue of drug pricing is "much broader" than EpiPens.
"If it just stops here, it is a failure," she explained.
But Klobuchar believes that calling out Mylan for raising EpiPen prices from $100 to upward of $600 a pair was necessary to "capture people's attention" in order to move to a general discussion. The senator still thinks there needs to be a Federal Trade Commission investigation that determines if Mylan violated antitrust laws.
"Otherwise," she said, "history will repeat itself" with price gouging in other drugs.
With drug price hikes on the front burner, Klobuchar has looked to pass a series of bills aimed at increasing competition in the drug market. The pharmaceutical industry has heretofore opposed all of those laws.
At the University of Minnesota medical school, Dr. Doug McMahon carries an epinephrine injector of his own design to guard against reactions to his food allergies.
McMahon says Mylan would never have dropped its EpiPen cost without the specific attention the product drew from members of congress in the past week. "It's opening people's eyes," he said.
What he would like them to see in addition is the time and cost it takes to offer alternative products.
McMahon is on an FDA "fast track" to make his AllergyStop product available. But it will still take "at least two years and $3 million to take our product to market."
Meanwhile, Mylan's control of the epinephrine auto injector market continues. It arose when a French company that offered an alternative had to recall its product because of dosage measurement problems. Meanwhile, the FDA delayed approval of an Israeli's company generic version of EpiPen because of what regulators called deficiencies.
A third product, Adrenaclick, is much cheaper than EpiPen and is recommended by Consumer Reports. But the product, which with savings coupons costs $140-$205 according to Consumer Reports, operates slightly differently than EpiPen and requires a specific doctors' prescription for generics.