WASHINGTON — The incredible increase in the cost of EpiPens, auto-injectors that can stop life-threatening emergencies caused by allergic reactions, has hit home on Capitol Hill, where one Democratic senator whose daughter has allergies has called for action and another Democratic senator’s daughter is CEO of the company responsible for the price hike.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democrat whose daughter relies on EpiPen, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate the price increase of the medication, calling it “unjustified.”
Meanwhile, the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat of West Virginia, has a very different personal connection. His daughter Heather Bresch heads Mylan, the company that produces EpiPens.
CNN reached out to both Mylan and Manchin for comment and have not yet received a response.
Klobuchar, voicing concerns for parents whose children have allergies, wants action.
“Many Americans, including my own daughter, rely on this life-saving product to treat severe allergic reactions,” the Minnesota Democrat wrote in a statement on her website. “Not only is this alarming price increase unjustified, it puts life-saving treatment out of reach to the consumers who need it most.”
Certainly the price increase has caused a public outcry as parents of children who have these severe allergies are particularly sounding the alarm as students are returning to school.
A standard two-pack of EpiPens now costs about $600 whereas the price was $100 in 2009. The pen provides epinephrine, a hormone also known as adrenaline that can help relax muscles in the airwaves in the midst of a severe allergic reaction.
The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act became law in 2013 to encourage states to increase their supply of epinephrine in schools. Some states have gone as far to pass laws requiring schools to have the drug.
“EpiPen expires after a year, meaning consumers are required to buy new EpiPens annually. However, due to the increasing cost, some people are being forced to carry expired doses of EpiPen, hoping the product will work even past the expiration date,” she added.
Klobuchar also urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Mylan has used incentives and exclusionary contracts to deny an alternative product to hit the market.
She said the concern around EpiPens is not unique to this drug.
“Unfortunately, the story of EpiPen is not unique. Time and again, we see reports of a pharmaceutical company buying a prescription drug product and then raising the price dramatically,” she wrote.
Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote Bresch requesting information about the reason behind the price increase.
“The substantial price increase has caused significant concern among patients,” the Iowan Republican wrote in the letter dated Monday. “From other Iowans I have heard concerns about the cost of EpiPens and the need to replace them once a year when they expire. The high cost has also caused some first responders to consider making their own kits with epinephrine vials and syringes.”
Grassley wrote that parents sending their children back to school are significantly concerned about the growing inaccessibility of the medication.
“Access to epinephrine can mean the difference between life and death, especially for children,” he wrote Monday. “Schools are feeling the budgetary effects of needing EpiPens on hand in order to be prepared for emergency situations.”
“The cost of an EpiPen prescription has implications for the federal taxpayers as well. Over 40% of children are insured through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),” he added.
Sen. Claire McCaskill and Sen. Susan Collins, leaders on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, wrote Bresch expressing their concern about the declining affordability of Epi Pens.
“There have been numerous accounts of individuals who are simply unable to afford this lifesaving medication and as a consequence have gone without, risked using an expired product, or resorted to uncertain (but less expensive) treatments,” they wrote.
The Senators are requesting a briefing with Bresch to occur “at a mutually convenient time no later than two weeks from” Wednesday.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in on the issue calling the increases outrageous.
“Over the last several years, Mylan Pharmaceuticals has increased the price of EpiPens by more than 400%,” she said.
“That’s outrageous — and it’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also tweeted that the price increase is unreasonable.
“There’s no reason an EpiPen, which costs Mylan just a few dollars to make, should cost families more than $600,” he tweeted.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that pharmaceutical companies “do real damage” to their reputations by making drugs unaffordable.
“Obviously, I’m not going to make specific comment or specifically second-guess the pricing strategy or the business practices of one private enterprise,” he said. “I will observe, however, that pharmaceutical companies that often try to portray themselves as the inventors of lifesaving medication often do real damage to their reputation by being greedy and jacking up prices in a way that victimizes vulnerable Americans.”
This is not the first time this year Congress has gotten involved over the high cost of pharmaceuticals. In February, the House Oversight Committee questioned former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli for hiking up the price of Daraprim, a toxoplasmosis treatment used by AIDS patients, by 5000%.
Shkreli defended Mylan in a tweet Wednesday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings accused Shkreli of dealing in “blood money” and taking advantage of Turing’s customers. “People are dying and they’re getting sicker and sicker.”
“Like a Ponzi scheme, it appears that Turing might be using profits from Daraprim to invest in new drugs that it would then jack up prices for,” the Maryland Democrat told Shkreli.