The drug used to retail for about $30 for a portable injector used to deliver a life-saving dose of epinephrine used to counter extreme allergic reactions to things like shellfish or bee stings. People with deadly susceptibility to these allergens need this drug in case of emergency exposure.
But the maker of the drug, Mylan, is now charging hundreds and hundreds of dollars per dose, and that has gotten the attention of Congress and of outraged voters in a presidential election year. The condemnation has been swift of Mylan's CEO. Heather Bresch.
Did I mention Bresch's father is our old friend West Virginia Dem Sen. Joe Manchin? I didn't? Maybe that explains Bresch's rapid about face today, offering customers financial help.
Drug maker Mylan (MYL) said Thursday that it would offer discounts on a life-saving allergy shot after generating a firestorm when it implemented sharp price increases for the treatment.
The company said it would offer coupons covering up to $300 "for patients in health plans who face higher out-of-pocket costs" for the EpiPen Auto-Injector treatment.
Mylan also said it would double the income level at which families are eligible for assistance in purchasing the medication to 400% of the federal poverty level. The company said a family of four with income up to $97,200 won't pay out of pocket.
"As a mother, I can assure you, the last thing that we would ever want is no one to have their EpiPen due to price," Mylan CEO Heather Bresch said on CNBC in an interview. "Our response has been to take that immediate action of making sure everyone has an EpiPen."
The average wholesale price of EpiPen has increased by 500% since 2009, while the price that insurers and employers pay to Mylan is up 150% over that period. There's no generic equivalent and no brand-name competitor.
Politicians and patient advocates have criticized Mylan for the price increases, describing the company's actions as emblematic of the drug industry's unfair stranglehold on the market for life-saving treatments.
Bresch vigorously defended the price hikes, arguing that the U.S. health-care framework "incentivizes higher prices" through a complex thicket of drug companies, insurers, health-care providers and pharmacy benefit managers.
"There's no question, the system is broken," she said. "There's no transparency, there's no clarity and no one knows what anything costs."
Well, as people keep saying, there's a solution for that, and it's to take the profit motive our of medicine. Maybe enough of these stories where drugmakers charge five or ten or thirty times the price for a life-saving medicine might get people to demand change.
We'll see. Meanwhile, Mylan stock has tanked and the company has lost $3 billion in value and counting so far, so there's always the Invisible Hand Of The Market to smack people around with.