Photo By: 
Greg Friese

The Epic Lies

The truth behind the decision to raise the price of the EpiPen

Richard Iannuzzi's picture
Aug 26, 2016

I have five wonderful grandsons ranging in age from four to eleven. They all have their own special qualities. Music, sports, swimming or just keeping me smiling and laughing. They are all blessed with good health, although one does have a nut allergy. As most parents and grandparents understand, this means he needs to be near an EpiPen at all times, in fact two EpiPens. So my daughter and her husband know that the EpiPens need to be present at home, in school, the playground, on vacation and, of course, at grandma and grandpa’s house.

By now you’ve heard about the obscene increase in the cost of the EpiPen made almost exclusively by Mylan Pharmaceuticals. Since acquiring the product in 2007, Mylan has raised the price from $100 to $600 despite no significant increase in production costs! While in my daughter’s case she has excellent insurance with reasonable co-pays thanks to her Union—one where I was proud to serve as president—so many other parents are locked into high co-pays, no coverage for the EpiPen or no coverage at all.

During the same period of time that the EpiPen’s price was soaring, Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, saw her annual compensation rise from $5 million to $19 million. No doubt part of her compensation covers the cost of defending price gauging and putting patients who can’t afford the $600 at risk of life threatening allergy attacks. The excuses that Bresch and Mylan are spinning (some would say lying) to explain the draconian increase are just as outrageous as the increases.

According to Bresch, one major reason is the ever increasing co-pays faced by many insured consumers. Based on that selfish logic, if everyone had low co-pays, no one would care about unfair and unwarranted price increases! Bresch has also tried to blame Obamacare. It seems to have escaped Bresch that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, over 20 million previously uninsured people now have health insurance. Or, perhaps she is suggesting that since so many more people have insurance, why not over inflate the product’s cost! At one point, Bresch compared the mortgage/banking crisis to the outrageous practice of price gauging—suggesting it’s a sign that the healthcare industry is in a boom, if not a bubble, and Mylan is being swept along! Mylan has even tried to blow smoke in the public’s eyes by tripling the “savings coupon” they provide needy consumers: a subsidy not available to anyone on Medicaid, Medicare or Tricare (military). The coupons are also available to some uninsured, but they have to provide massive documentation and reapply every year!

Democratic Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, said it best, “just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers.”

As with any industry, profession, or union, the “bad apples” muddy the names of all. The same is true in healthcare. The good work is often overshadowed by the scandalous acts of a few. I’ve worked with great advocates from Pfizer in support of The Mental Health Association of NYS, and personally witnessed amazing work using technology to save lives in Haiti thanks to Healthways and its CEO, Donato Tramuto, who helped to create “Health Evillages” in partnership with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights where I serve as a board member.     

Congressional hearings will come and go—like they did when Valeant Pharmaceuticals increased the cost of its diabetes drug by 500%. What won’t go away and what must continue to strengthen is a Union movement that consistently brings quality healthcare to the bargaining table; that lobbies for stronger consumer protections; and, that makes a case for serious healthcare laws and single-payer national health insurance.

Bresch didn’t lie about everything. When asked if this was the end of price increases for the EpiPen, Bresch wouldn’t say increases would stop! The only way they will stop is when we accept that the right to quality universal healthcare is a human right—a right the labor movement understands and has always demanded.




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