Obscene increase in cost of EpiPen justifies probe

Once again, Big Pharma’s greed and venality are on full display, and once again, the debate over the runaway cost of life-saving drugs is raging around the country.

But just as in past national discussions about prescription drugs in America, this one probably will result in nothing being done by the Republican-controlled Congress to rein in the politically influential pharmaceutical industry.

On the other hand, the latest controversy may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The reason for our crossed fingers: Skyrocketing drug prices have become a major issue in this year’s presidential election, and Republicans are fearful of being tagged captives of Big Pharma.

Thus, the $500 increase in the cost of EpiPen, the injected emergency medicine for severe allergic reactions to food and bug bites, has taken the country by storm.

According to the Associated Press, Mylan N.V., the maker of EpiPen, has a virtual monopoly on epinephrine injectors. They are potentially life- saving devices used to stop a runaway allergic reaction.

The company, headquartered in Hertfordshire, England, and Pittsburgh, increased prices as frequently as three times a year over the past nine years, pushing the list price for a package of two syringes to more than $600.

Why the concern about this medicine? Because roughly 40 million Americans have severe allergies to spider bites, bee stings, and foods such as nuts, eggs and shellfish. They are at risk for a serious reaction – anaphylactic shock.

Children are at greater risk, especially now that school is back in session.

But the obscene price hike isn’t the only cause for public anger.

As NBC News reported recently, top executives at Mylan gave themselves huge raises during the time they were sticking it to the American people.

Huge pay boost

Chief Executive Officer Heather Bresch, daughter of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., received a 671 percent salary increase from 2007 to 2015. She now pulls in $18.9 million – from $2.4 million nine years ago.

During that period, Mylan jacked up the price of the two-pack EpiPen by 500 percent.

It is revealing that U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are leading the charge in Congress for full investigations into Mylan’s actions.

In the midst of the rage sweeping the country over the price hike, the company announced that it would give certain individuals a voucher that would reduce the cost. However, those with insurance would have to pay the full price. Is there any doubt that insurance companies will increase the premiums paid by the insured? There is also the issue of the high deductibles that some insurance companies require.

This week, Mylan announced it would make available a generic version of the EpiPen. It’s nothing more than a public relations stunt given that the cost will be $300.

The bottom line: Charging $600 for a two-pack EpiPen – or $300 for the generic version – is possible because there are no government restrictions on what drug companies can charge, as there are in other countries, including Canada. The cost of EpiPen in Canada is $99.

Last year, the nation was witness to another obscene price increase for a life-saving drug.

Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of a pill for treating a deadly parasitic infection by more than 5,000 percent. Turing rolled back some of the increase after a firestorm of national criticism, but the action clearly illustrated the need for the federal government to control prescription drug prices.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and a former U.S. senator from New York, rolled out a plan earlier this year to rein in prescription drug prices by reshaping how drug makers do business.

Republicans and Big Pharma quickly dismissed Clinton’s ideas as a rehash of Democratic Party orthodoxy. However, with the EpiPen scandal, the reaction on Capitol Hill is quite different. That’s because Republican members of Congress have constituents who are at wits end because of the sharp price increase.

Public pressure must be brought to bear on Washington to rein in Big Pharma.

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