In 2007, pharmaceutical company Mylan purchased the rights to the brand name device EpiPen, which is used to inject epinephrine in the case of a life-threatening anaphylactic allergic reaction. At that time, the devices cost $57 each. The price has since risen steadily to $609.
Roughly 43 million people in the United States are at risk of anaphylactic reactions, and the high price of EpiPens is placing life-saving medication beyond their reach.
On August 24, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called Mylan’s pricing “outrageous,” saying, “It’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers.”
What Clinton did not mention is that Mylan has a history of donating to the Clinton Foundation.
Mylan lobbying yields results
Mylan was already hiking EpiPen prices in 2009, when it participated in a Clinton Foundation effort to lower the cost of HIV drugs. Mylan agreed to bring the price of four drugs to 28 percent lower than the competition. It is unclear if that promise was ever kept.
Clinton Foundation records also show that Mylan has donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Foundation, but do not state when the money was received.
Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is also the daughter of West Virginia senator and Clinton supporter Joe Manchin.
The revelations may fuel concerns about the inter-connectedness of the Clintons with Big Pharma and other large financial interests. And they may reflect Mylan’s proven strategy of peddling political influence for financial gain.
Shortly after acquiring EpiPen, Mylan increased its lobbying spending from $270,000 (in 2007) to $1.2 million (in 2008). The results of this lobbying included new FDA recommendations that EpiPens be sold two to a package (instead of one), and that the devices be prescribed not just to people with confirmed allergies, but to all patients considered “at-risk.” Congress also passed a law designating large grants to states that required schools to keep EpiPens on hand.
Company profits, patients lose
There’s no doubt that Mylan’s policies have yielded enormous returns. The company’s stock price has more than tripled since 2007, and 40 percent of its profits now come from EpiPen sales.
During the same time period, executive salaries ballooned. Bresch’s salary rose from $2.4 million in 2007, to $19 million in 2015 – a nearly 700 percent increase!
“This outrageous increase in the price of EpiPens is occurring at the same time that Mylan … is exploiting a monopoly market advantage that has fallen into its lap,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.
Mylan’s profits are ensured by EpiPen’s patented-drug delivery system, which makes it hard for new competitors to break into the market.
The drug inside EpiPens – epinephrine – is actually a very inexpensive generic drug. It is chemically identical to the hormone adrenaline, which fills a wide variety of functions in the body.
Supplements such as Adrenal Strength are said to replenish the body and promote a healthy stress response.
In spite of a firestorm of criticism, Mylan still refuses to lower the drugs’ price. Instead, it has begun issuing $300-off coupons for EpiPens, as well as promising to offer the devices free to anyone making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line. But critics charge that such policies unfairly place the burden on patients to learn about and apply for discounts – and that they do not spare pharmacies or insurers the full price of the drug. The company still makes its outlandish profit.
Mylan also boasts of giving away 700,000 free EpiPens to schools over the past four years. But critics note that the company reaps enormous tax benefits from such policies; in fact, Mylan actually received a tax refund in 2014 – as well as free advertising.
And the majority of schools that stock EpiPens are still paying through the nose.