EpiPen hearings took place in Congress on Wednesday. Mylan NV Chief Executive Heather Bresch was sharply rebuked by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle during the hearings. Both Republicans and Democrats peppered her with questions regarding hikes in the price of the EpiPen, a portable emergency treatment for severe allergies. During the hearings, members of Congress also grilled the Mylan exec in an attempt to uncover reasons why drug prices in the U.S. keep rising.
“You asked for it.” Free-market Republicans turn on Mylan at Congressional hearing: https://t.co/HWXLEBrGhL
— Drew Armstrong (@ArmstrongDrew) September 21, 2016
Bresch was called before Congress for the EpiPen hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who sought answers from the Mylan executive after the price for the EpiPen rose from $100 for two in 2007 to $600 in 2016, according to Reuters.
Among the adjectives used by members of Congress to describe the EpiPen price hike were “disgusting” and “sickening,” especially in reference to what they perceive as Mylan’s cavalier attitude toward children who, because they suffer from severe, life-threatening allergies, need to carry an EpiPen at all times. Because of the price increases, lawmakers say, these children’s families can no longer afford the EpiPen, a device which, through a quick shot in the thigh, delivers a dose of epinephrine to counteract a severe allergic reaction.
During the EpiPen hearings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, accused Mylan of hiking the price of the EpiPen solely to line the pockets of its executives without regard to the people who need the medicine. The representative wondered aloud if the company would change their practices in light of the severe backlash it has received.
“After Mylan takes our punches, they’ll fly back to their mansions in their private jets and laugh all the way to the bank.”
Reuters reports that during several portions of Bresch’s hearing testimony, as she tried to explain the finer points of U.S. drug pricing and the difficulty in making money when revenue is divided between health insurers, etc., lawmakers interrupted the executive. She remained steadfast in her defense of Mylan’s pricing practices, saying that after all costs have been taken into account, the company makes only $100 or so for each pair of EpiPens sold.
In addition, Bresch told Congress during the EpiPen hearings that Mylan is planning to market a version of the EpiPen to sell for half the current price. She pointed out that the company provides the devices to many schools for free, and, in addition, the generic medications made by Mylan have saved $180 billion for the U.S. healthcare system over the past 10 years. Bresch also said Mylan will soon be asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval on a new device with a longer shelf life, which would cut down on replacement costs for the device.
“Our concern was absolutely that anyone who needs an EpiPen has one.”
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz was not swayed by Bresch’s promises.
“Suddenly, feeling the heat, Mylan has offered a generic version and cut the price in half, so that does beg the question what was happening with that other $300?”
Chaffetz added that the cost of the medicine contained in each injector is approximately one dollar.
Bresch was also taken to task during the EpiPen hearings by members of Congress who noted the increase of her salary to $18 million from $2.5 million during the same period in which the EpiPen’s prices rose so drastically.
Although Bresch received the brunt of Congress’ frustration over the rising EpiPen costs during Wednesday’s hearing, lawmakers also placed blame on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for not acting quickly enough to make sure that competitors to the EpiPen were approved for sale. Currently, the device owns more than 90 percent of its market.
During the EpiPen hearings, Congress is also seeking to determine whether Mylan profited from classifying the EpiPen as generic, even though the FDA classifies it as branded. Generic medications are worth smaller rebates to government health plans than branded drugs, which causes Mylan to receive more profit. Mylan claims that it follows all rebate laws.
According to Reuters, the EpiPen made up $1 billion of Mylan’s $9.45 billion in annual sales in 2015, which accounted for approximately 20 percent of its profit. Critics believe the drug would still make a profit if priced lower.
Mylan is not the only drug company to face congressional hearings due to price increases. Executives from Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and Turing Pharmaceuticals were called before Congress last year, reports New York Times.
The EpiPen hearings on Wednesday may not have solved the problem American families face when attempting to afford the steep price of the devices, but they did manage to unite Republicans and Democrats behind one cause. Congress will have to decide how to go forward during this rare moment of collaboration in order to best represent their financially strapped constituents, who depend on lifesaving drugs such as the EpiPen.
[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]