Here’s something sure to stir controversy. The price of the life-saving EpiPen went from $50 US (in 2008) to somewhere between $250 and $400 US this month. That’s if you live in the USA.
This morning, I was at the Calgary Co-op Pharmacy here in Alberta, Canada. I asked the fellow behind the counter for a price on the EpiPen. $109 Canadian. (That’s about $85 US.)
I’m confused about the price in the USA because every story I read uses different numbers. Here, Bernie Sanders says $600 for a set of two. According to Wall Street Journal, some folks were asked to pay $1212 for two packs of two pens – that’s $300 each. These devices save lives, so people will buy them. Sometimes for any price, but sometimes not.
We have an interest in the price of EpiPens. So should you, if you are a beekeeper or if you know someone with a milk, egg, peanut, bee sting, or other allergy. If you suffer from a typical bee sting reaction, you may get nasty swelling. Sometimes it’s so bad an eye may swell shut for a few days. This is not necessarily a severe allergic reaction but may be just a local response to venom in the skin. Things may go terribly wrong, however, when the victim enters a full anaphylactic shock with swelling throat, arrhythmic heart, and a general allergic response which can quickly be fatal. A shot of epinephrine from an EpiPen can save a life. Am I scaring you? Fright is part of the EpiPen’s marketing strategy. You might like to see Bloomberg’s story: How Marketing Turned the EpiPen Into a Billion-Dollar Business.
Administered promptly, EpiPens can stop an anaphylactic allergic reaction from becoming fatal. Most beekeepers own several kits. They stow them in their truck, along with antihistamine, just in case a worker, family member, or passerby gets stung by a honey bee and has a life-threatening reaction.
Is Mylan, the company that makes and sells EpiPens, gauging customers who would die without the product? The company claims that nearly 80% of all “commercially insured” customers actually get the injection kits for no cost, zero, zip. Even if it’s true (these reporters suggest it’s perhaps not true), that’s a despicable claim because it implies there really is such a thing as a free lunch (and maybe Santa, too). ‘Commercially insured’ means that Blue Cross or some company’s drug plan is paying the full price-gauging price. Here’s how Mylan says it on their website:
“Previously a patient may have paid a $25 co-pay for a prescription regardless of the product cost. Today, with a high deductible health plan, they must pay the full product cost, which they may have previously been unaware of, until their deductible is reached.”
So, if you are upset about paying so much for EpiPens, it’s obviously your fault for not paying for better insurance. On Mylan’s website, the company rather defensively claims that the problem isn’t that they raised their price, but Mylan claims, people are taking insurance packages with bigger deductibles, so consumers are paying more out-of-pocket and thus are complaining. Why are people taking bigger deductible insurance? Because price-gauging pharmas have forced insurance companies to raise premiums. “Why Did Mylan Hike EpiPen Prices 400%?” asks business magazine Forbes. “Because They Could”, says Forbes.
The cost of making and distributing these kits is about $20. Mylan was making a healthy profit before they decided to make an obscene profit. Mylan made a $1.2 billion profit last year. The CEO’s salary went up 700% in three years. The company president, Heather Bresch, received $18 million last year from the company. The company is doing OK. Maybe pen users should hold their noses and buy some shares.
Meanwhile here in Canada, I can’t explain why our corner pharmacy (or others across Canada) sell EpiPens at reasonable prices. They are made by the same company (Mylan) which has a corporate office here. It’s likely related to government oversight, insurance company policies, and the difference in the medical and drug culture between the countries (Americans seem conditioned to pay unhealthy amounts of money for health care).
I won’t recommend that Americans should fly up to Canada to buy this medicine. I don’t know much about trans-border shopping, but I found this piece, written two years. The blogger writes about driving from Seattle, north to BC, to pick up her life-saving meds for $9.99. Less than ten dollars? Well, that was two years ago.
Here’s an update, 3 days after I posted this story: