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Lawmakers blast Mylan’s move to curb EpiPen costs as PR fix

🕐 5 min read

Mylan’s move to alleviate patients’ cost burden for its $600 EpiPen emergency allergy shots was blasted by members of Congress who called it a public-relations maneuver.

In response to intense criticism over the past few days, Mylan acted Thursday to expand assistance programs that help patients with high out-of-pocket expenses — but didn’t go as far as cutting the treatment’s list price. Health insurers and U.S. lawmakers, along with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, criticized the effort as an attempt to cover a 400 percent price hike that won’t make the drug more affordable. Mylan has been under fire for increasing the price to about $600 for a two-pack from $57 for a single pen in 2007.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, joined Democratic lawmakers including Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal in saying Mylan’s moves aren’t enough.

“This step seems like a PR fix more than a real remedy, masking an exorbitant and callous price hike. This baby step should be followed by actual robust action,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The only fair and effective relief is a substantial price reduction for everyone who needs access to this life-saving drug, not just a special break for people who are in particular health plans and have the extra hours in their work day to navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth of discounts.”

Chief Executive Officer Heather Bresch, the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, was quick to react to the mounting political scrutiny, days after lawmakers started to express outrage over EpiPen’s price and called for investigations. Criticism including from Clinton, who called the price increases outrageous on Wednesday, had sent the shares down 11 percent in just three days.

Clinton “welcomes the fact that Mylan is now apparently open to taking steps to lower some of the cost sharing burdens imposed on families,” Tyrone Gayle, a spokesman for the candidate, said Thursday in a statement. “However, discounts for selected customers without lowering the overall price of EpiPens are insufficient.”

Manchin said in a statement that he’s concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs and will review Mylan’s response. He also said he expects Mylan to have a “more comprehensive and formal response” in the future.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Washington lobby group for insurers, said Mylan’s move is “a recycled approach.” Other drugmakers that have come under fire for raising drug prices, including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, Martin Shkreli’s former firm, have also pointed to coupons and patient assistance programs they offer in response to criticism.

Mylan will expand existing programs to help people with high out-of-pocket expenses, according to a statement Thursday. By using a savings card, patients will get as much as $300 toward their EpiPen 2-Pak, which should effectively reduce costs by 50 percent for those who were previously paying the full list price. The drugmaker is also doubling eligibility for its patient assistance program so that a family of four that makes up to $97,200 would not have to pay for the EpiPen.

“We recognize the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter,” Mylan’s Bresch said in a statement. “Price is only one part of the problem that we are addressing with today’s actions. All involved must also take steps to help meaningfully address the U.S. healthcare crisis.”

Mylan’s actions were “a welcome relief,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, in a statement. But “it won’t fully address the root of the problem.”

The EpiPen price increases drew particular attention in Washington because Bresch had successfully pushed legislation to encourage use of the product in schools nationwide. Mylan spent about $4 million in 2012 and 2013 on lobbying for access to EpiPens generally and for legislation, including the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Office of the Clerk for the House of Representatives.

Mylan has given away more than 700,000 free EpiPens to schools since 2012 under a program that allows them to receive four free auto-injectors, the company said. Schools have to use their own funds to purchase additional pens.

Members of Congress who began demanding an explanation for the EpiPen price increases in the past days included Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and Iowa’s Grassley, who said he still expects Mylan to answer questions he sent the company Monday about the product’s price. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is waiting to review Mylan’s answers before deciding whether to hold a hearing on the price of the EpiPen.

“The announcement today doesn’t appear to change the product price,” he said Thursday. “The price is what Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies pay. It’s what patients who don’t get assistance cards pay. And when drug companies offer patient assistance cards, it’s usually not clear how many patients benefit.”

Klobuchar on Monday asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether Mylan had done anything to deny competitors access to the market in order to keep raising prices, pointing to a competitor product, Adrenaclick, that she said is less expensive but has only minimal sales.

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging asked Bresch to turn over information used by Mylan’s board of directors related to the price increases. The panel wrote a letter to Bresch asking her to “provide a briefing to Committee staff on the pricing of EpiPen at a mutually convenient time no later than two weeks from today.” The letter was signed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and its top Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

–With assistance from Kristen Hallam and Billy House

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