Health

Mylan deepens discount on some EpiPen sales in U.S. after criticism

Mylan, in the face of heated criticism over price hikes for its EpiPen emergency allergy treatment, is bulking up programs that help patients pay for the drug.

Generic drugmaker lays out plan to expand its patient assistance program and offer savings cards

EpiPen dispenses epinephrine through an auto-injection mechanism for people with severe allergies. The drugmaker has come under fire from consumers and lawmakers in the U.S. for price hikes. ( Joe Raedle/Getty)
 Mylan is bulking up programs that help patients pay for its EpiPen emergency allergy treatment after weathering heated criticism about an average cost that has soared over the past decade. 

But the drugmaker didn't budge on its price, which has drawn ire both in Congress and from families that have had to shell out increasingly large sums for the potentially life-saving treatment.

That means the insurers and employers that pay the bulk of the EpiPen cost for many patients will continue to do so, contributing to higher health insurance costs.

​"That's just going to come out in the premiums," said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at the Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute. "Everybody suffers, except the Mylan investors."

The average price of a two-dose EpiPen package climbed to about $608 US earlier this year, up from around $94 US nine years ago, according to the Elsevier Clinical Solutions' Gold Standard Drug Database.

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch told CNBC Thursday that lowering the price was not an option.

"Had we reduced the list price, I couldn't ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen gets one," she said.

Discounts 'insufficient'

EpiPens are used in emergencies to treat severe allergies that can lead to anaphylactic shock. Roughly 40 million Americans have severe allergies to spider bites, bee stings and foods like nuts, eggs and shellfish.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and members of Congress from both parties have quickly ramped up criticism of the company and its pricing.

Mylan move to expand discount programs for EpiPen was welcome but not sufficient, a spokesman for U.S.  Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
 
"Discounts for selected customers without lowering the overall price of EpiPens are insufficient, because the excessive price will likely be passed on through higher insurance premiums," Clinton campaign spokesman Tyrone Gayle said Thursday. "Since there is no apparent justification for the price increase, Mylan should immediately lower the overall price of EpiPens." 

"Had we reduced the list price, I couldn't ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen gets one," Mylan Pharmaceuticals CEO Heather Bresch told CNBC. (Dale Sparks/Associated Press)

Bresch said Thursday that Mylan gets $274 US for a two-dose EpiPen package. The rest of the $608 US price goes to entities that stand between the drugmaker and the patient, like insurers, pharmacy benefits managers, wholesalers and drugstores.

'This is a health care issue'

"This isn't an EpiPen issue," she said. "This isn't a Mylan issue. This is a health care issue."

Mylan did say, however, that it was doubling the eligibility for its patient assistance program to people with incomes four times higher than the federal poverty level. It said that means a family of four making up to $97,200 US would pay nothing out of pocket for the treatment. It also noted that its $300 US savings card would cut the bill in half for patients who would otherwise have to pay full price for the EpiPen.

Patients also will be able to order the injected medicine directly from the company, to help lower costs.

These measures could provide significant help for people with no coverage facing the full bill. But they might have more limited value to a patient whose insurer will cover most of the bill anyway and whose future premium could be affected each year.

Customers of Express Scripts Holding Co., the largest pharmacy benefits manager in the U.S., pay about $73.50 US out of pocket for an EpiPen prescription, spokesman Brian Henry said. He noted that price has stayed relatively stable the past couple years.

Last year, more than 3.6 million U.S. prescriptions for two-packs of EpiPens were filled, according to data firm IMS Health. That brought in sales of nearly $1.7 billion US for Mylan.

Canada's patented drug prices are regulated by the federal Patent Medicine Prices Review Board. EpiPens in Canada are manufactured by Mylan but distributed by Pfizer Canada.  The price has hovered around $100 for the last four years and Pfizer Canada says there are no plans to increase the Canadian price.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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