The scandalously high price of life-saving EpiPens was supposed to fall, but it has not.
As Stephanie Zimmermann reported in Monday’s Sun-Times, a new generic competitor to EpiPens, which people use to inject epinephrine when they are experiencing a severe allergic reaction, is clocking in at $300.
If competitive forces cannot drive down the price of an essential drug that costs just $75 across the border in Canada, Congress and federal regulators have the authority, as well as an ethical obligation, to step in.
The indefensibly high price of EpiPens has been a problem since 2007, when the drug company Mylan acquired the product and jacked up the price from a little more than $100 for a two-pack to more than $600. The industry expectation was that the price would fall as generics hit the market, but the price remains out of whack.
The high price victimizes families with children who have severe allergies. To ensure epinephrine is immediately at hand in an emergency, families typically keep several injectors in their homes, another in the child’s backpack, perhaps another in the car, as well as in other places. Schools stock them, and Gov. Bruce Rauner in July signed a bill to encourage police officers to use the injectors in emergencies by protecting the officers from liability.
The injectors expire after 12 to 18 months, which adds to the cost, and health insurance plans often cover only a fraction of the cost.
EpiPen technology was developed 50 years ago for use in the U.S. military. The pens contain only about $1 worth of epinephrine. Much of the balance of the price amounts to pure price-gouging.
President Donald Trump has talked about the problem of high drug prices, but his administration has not made a consistent effort to lower prices. Even as the Department of Health and Human Services seeks to peg drug costs to much lower prices in other countries, the Trump administration’s chief trade representative is pushing a plan to significantly boost the cost of foreign drugs.
That certainly would make American drugs more competitive, but in the wrong direction.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who has pushed various measures to reduce drug prices, told us Monday that Democrats plan to make “outrageous” drug prices a top priority in the next Congress. The pharmaceutical companies charge the high prices only “because they can,” she said.
The best solution is a more robust free market, with more EpiPen generics coming on line quickly.
Short of that, it’s up to the Trump administration and Congress to end the price-gouging.
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