MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar criticized the sharp price hikes for EpiPens, the emergency drug injectors for severe allergic reactions, saying Wednesday that it’s “outrageous” that manufacturer Mylan is making money off of those who have few alternatives.
Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who has worked to contain prescription drug price increases and whose 21-year-old daughter carries an EpiPen because of severe nut allergies, is one of several members of Congress demanding more information on why EpiPen prices have soared. A two-pack has risen from about $100 in 2008 to as much as $600 today, and the trend toward high-deductible health insurance plans and the need to replace EpiPens yearly as children return to school has many families facing sticker shock.
“This is a company that has a virtual monopoly,” said Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee. There’s no way that whatever minor improvements the manufacturer has made justify the increase, she said at a news conference in Minneapolis, also pointing out that the same product costs hundreds of dollars less in Canada and other countries.
Klobuchar called on the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing and for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.
The senator was joined at Children’s Hospital by Drs. Sheldon Berkowitz and Anupam Kharbanda, who both denounced the price increases as “unconscionable.” Also speaking was 12-year-old Grace Heinze, who said she has a “life-threatening” peanut allergy and must always keep EpiPens handy.
“It means my backpack comes with me everywhere I go — to school every day, to the beach, to soccer practice and to the ski hill,” Heinze said. “My mom jokes that she’s a broken record because she asks me daily, ‘Grace, do you have your Epis with you?’ She even sends me text messages to triple check. But I understand why she does it. If I do have a reaction, my EpiPens are the one way to ensure that I stay alive and safe.”
U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., co-chair of the House Medical Technology Caucus, on Wednesday sent a letter to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, expressing concerns about the rising cost of EpiPens.
“I have heard from numerous residents in Minnesota that recent price increases for an EpiPen could result in them losing access to this life-saving technology,” Paulsen wrote. He said that while he realizes that research and development of innovative drugs and medical technology cost billions of dollars, “it must be balanced with the need to ensure patient access to life-saving technology.”
In a statement Wednesday, Mylan, which has headquarters in England and Pittsburgh, said millions of patients get EpiPens for as low as $0 under a discount program and that it has distributed more than 700,000 freeEpiPens to schools. It didn’t explain why the costs have soared.
Klobuchar said she’s long been pushing four separate bills with bipartisan support from Sens. John McCain and Chuck Grassley to hold down prescription drug price increases, but those two are among the few GOP senators willing to speak out, so she hasn’t been able to get votes.
“My hope is that is going to be finally the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or breaks pharma’s back, and we’ll be able to make some change,” Klobuchar said.