Mylan CEO defends EpiPen price hike before Congress
Medicine | Lawmakers vent bipartisan anger at high cost of life-saving drug
by Jae Wasson
Posted 9/21/16, 06:37 pm
Angry members of Congress today grilled Heather Bresch, CEO of the drug company behind the lifesaving EpiPen, about the possibility that her company makes huge profits off the needs of patients.
Bresch defended her company’s more than 500-percent price hike on the product during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, explaining drugmaker Mylan made signficantly less profit than supposed and was creating a cheaper option. Both Bresch and the committee blamed the drug industry for the scandal—Bresch for excessive bureacracy driving up prices and committee members for too little competition keeping prices high.
“To take advantage of this situation, take advantage of these people who are really in need of this medication,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., “I would hope that corporate America, the pharmaceutical company, is better than that.”
Mylan gradually increased prices to today’s $608 for a two-pack of EpiPens. The drug inside the pen itself only costs $1. It stops anaphylactic shock, often an allergic reaction to foods, insect bites, and bee stings. Pens expire after a year, and patients need to buy multiple pens so they will have access to the drug wherever they might have an attack.
Many patients can’t afford the prices but have to have pens, said committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, as he opened the hearing.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., wanted to know what Mylan had done to earn such a price increase, pointing to its 11th-place ranking in the drug industry by total revenue. Bresch tried to hedge the question and Norton interrupted her, raising her voice.
Mylan only makes $50 profit on each pen, Bresch explained over and over again, saying the high price was due to the complicated and bureaucratic world of the drug industry that drained money at every turn.
“We believe it was a fair price, and we just lowered the price by half,” Bresch said.
Mylan plans to release a generic version of the EpiPen that will cost $300 for a two-pack, she said, bringing the profit down almost to a loss. The committee members questioning her were skeptical. The generic version, they pointed out, would also help Mylan keep market share against competitors and bring in tens of millions of dollars. “This is why we don’t believe you,” Chaffetz said.
The idea of competition as a way to force down the price came up repeatedly in the hearing. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman testified EpiPen has only one competitor on the market. The FDA has brought the review time for competitive drugs down to 10 months.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers want Mylan to take action.
“A mother would cut off her right arm to get that drug,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., said. “Lower the price so they can afford it.”
Jae is a Zenger House fellow