Until recently, each EpiPen could cost $100 or more, a price I consider steep. Then I considered the cost of not having one.
But in 2007, Mylan pharmaceutical company won a near-monopoly on the device. The company used its new power to raise the price of EpiPens by more than 400 percent in recent years. Because it could. Now many families will have to make huge sacrifices to scrounge up more than $500 every year. (They expire.) And some children will have to go back to school without this medication because their families can’t afford it. That is unconscionable.
EpiPens only come in packs of two. If you have good insurance, your policy may cover most of the cost. But people with high deductibles or no insurance are left scrambling.
An estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies, according to the group FARE (Food, Allergy, Research and Education). Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room – that equals about 200,000 visits per year. Studies also show that food allergies among children have jumped 50 percent in the past decade. This potentially life-threatening condition now affects 1 in 13 children under age 18.
In my home town of New York City, an estimated 170,000 people will experience anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction — at least once in their lifetime. Children ages 5 to 17 are 2.4 times more likely than adults to visit the emergency room because of a food allergy. And for children up to age 4, the risk is nearly double. In fact, New York City averages about 325 ER visits and five deaths per year because of anaphylaxis. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that more than half of these deaths could have been avoided if people with known food allergies had an EpiPen and received training on how to use it.
In 2015, Mylan made about 90 percent of all epinephrine auto-injectors prescribed in the United States. A spokesman told NBC that the cost has “changed over time to better reflect important product features and the value the product provides.”
The company offers an EpiPen Savings Card and a Patient Assistance Program, a kind of discount to help offset some of the cost for “qualifying” patients. These are small comforts to those who depend on their product. Meanwhile, since 2007, the salary and bonus of Mylan’s CEO jumped 671 percent, and other top executives got double-digit pay increases last year. If this isn’t greed, what is?
Allergies run in families. How can a financially strapped family possibly manage if more than one member has a severe allergy? Where households suffer a shared affliction that threatens breathing and blood circulation, Mylan sees only dollar signs.
I grew up before EpiPens were available, so I learned early on how best to protect myself. I eat at home whenever possible. When I eat out, I’m extremely cautious: I usually won’t eat anything if I’m not 100 percent sure of the ingredients. That goes for freshly-prepared dishes and packaged foods. I once bought a chocolate chip cookie that was supposedly nut-free and was wretchedly sick the rest of the day. When it comes to food, I’m an adult fully capable of making smart decisions.
But no one can fully protect themselves from a bee, wasp or hornet sting – other common allergens. And what about that 6-year-old whose family can’t afford an EpiPen? Should we really expect her to turn down every questionable cookie or successfully dodge a stinging insect? Can we safely rely on her to do so?
I understand that Mylan is a business, and businesses need to turn a profit. But what is the justification for price-gouging on life-saving medication? The answer is simple: There is none.