Our Children's Lives Depend on This Drug: A Mother's Plea to CEO After EpiPen Price Jumped 400%

Amid public outcry over its alleged price gouging, Mylan is offering a generic version of EpiPen. However, consumer advocates say the cost of the generic version is still prohibitively expensive and triple the price of what EpiPen cost in 2007 when Mylan acquired the product. The company increased the price of its allergy injector by some 400 percent in less than a decade, sparking a national conversation about the monopoly power of pharmaceutical companies. Across the United States, millions of children and adults rely on the pocket-sized EpiPen to counteract fatal allergic reactions from common occurrences such bee stings and peanut consumption. For more, we speak with Ashley Alteman, who runs a website called SmashleyAshley.com, where she has just posted an open letter to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch. 

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The pharmaceutical giant Mylan has announced it will launch a cheaper generic version of its life-saving allergy shot EpiPen amidst public outcry over its alleged price gouging. The company increased the price of its allergy injector by some 400 percent in less than a decade, sparking a national conversation about the monopoly power of drug companies. Across the United States, millions of children and adults rely on the pocket-sized EpiPen to counteract fatal allergic reactions from common occurrences such as bee stings and peanut consumption. This is a video released by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

CHILD 1: I’m allergic to nuts.

CHILD 2: I can’t eat strawberries.

CHILD 3: Milk doesn’t like me.

CHILD 4: Mommy says I got an allergy.

CHILD 5: I get all red and bumpy.

CHILD 2: My eyes get puffy, like this.

CHILD 1: I don’t breathe so good.

CHILD 4: My tongue gets itchy. CHILD 6: It made me really scared.

CHILD 2: This—

CHILD 4: This—

CHILD 7: This—

CHILD 3: —is—

CHILD 5: —my—

CHILD 4: —EpiPen.

CHILD 7: —EpiPen.

CHILD 2: —EpiPen.

CHILD 1: —my EpiPen.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the manufacturer of the EpiPen, Mylan, announced it will essentially sell the same product under two brands at separate price points, in competition with each other. However, consumer advocates say the cost of the generic drug is still prohibitively expensive and triple the price of what EpiPen cost in 2007 when Mylan acquired the product. In 2007, the wholesale price of the life-saving drug in the U.S. was $57. Less than a decade later, it now costs over $300. Each EpiPen reportedly contains only $1 worth of medicine. Mylan has a near monopoly in the U.S., and the company has seen its profits from the EpiPen alone skyrocket to $1 billion a year. Meanwhile, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s total compensation has spiked from around $2.5 million in 2007 to almost $19 million today. Bresch is the daughter of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Last week, Bresch appeared on CNBC and said her company is committed to making the EpiPen accessible to everyone.

HEATHER BRESCH: As a mother, I can assure you the last thing that we would ever want is no one to have their EpiPen due to price. So, I—like I said, our response has been to take that immediate action of making sure that everyone has an EpiPen. So, that was first and front, and that’s why we’re here today, is to make sure that that message is out there loud and clear, and that no one is falling through the cracks.

AMY GOODMAN: Mylan’s decision to exponentially increase the cost of EpiPen has ignited a firestorm on both social media and Capitol Hill. On Monday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Bresch seeking documents on EpiPen pricing, including those relating to revenue from EpiPen sales since 2007, manufacturing costs and the amount of money the company receives from federal government healthcare programs. Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner have both published statements criticizing the price hike, noting they both have children who suffer from severe allergies and rely on the EpiPen. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton tweeted, "EpiPens can be the difference between life and death. There’s no justification for these price hikes," unquote. Today, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and its allies will deliver a petition signed by approximately 600,000 people to Mylan’s headquarters in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, demanding further price cuts. For more, we go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Peter Maybarduk. He is director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program. And in San Diego, California, we’re joined by Ashley Alteman. She runs a website called SmashleyAshley.com, where she’s just posted an open letter to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch. Alteman is a contributor to The Huffington Post and several parenting blogs, including ScaryMommy.com. Peter and Ashley, we welcome you both to Democracy Now Ashley, first explain how the EpiPen works. This is a self-injector, right?

ASHLEY ALTEMAN: Yes, absolutely. I have a now-eight-year-old daughter. We found out about her life-threatening egg allergy at about nine months old and were introduced to the EpiPen back in, roughly, 2008. We were shown how it works and, you know, the ease and the simplicity of the EpiPen. And yeah, it’s a life-saving drug. AMY GOODMAN: Ashley, where do you inject it?

ASHLEY ALTEMAN: Into the thigh. When your child goes into anaphylaxis, you direct it right into the thigh of your child, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is your concern, and what are you demanding in this open letter?

ASHLEY ALTEMAN: Well, I think that, you know, I looked at—I’ve looked at a lot of things. I went, obviously, to pick up my daughter’s prescription, and her prescription used to cost me about $25—I have commercial insurance—used to cost me about $25 for a prescription. A prescription includes two EpiPens. That prescription now costs me about $300. Mind you, I also pay about $1,000 a month in commercial insurance. And then, all of a sudden, this drug has just absolutely skyrocketed. I went to pick it up, and it completely blindsided me. And in my open letter, I was very honest. I said, at the time, I didn’t have the amount of money that it costs for my copay to pay for these EpiPens at the time. You know, you’re thinking you’re going to spend $25, maybe $50. A lot of people don’t take into consideration the fact that it’s not just one EpiPen that you need. You need EpiPens for your home. The school requires that you have EpiPens on stock at the school. They only allow brand-new, unopened prescriptions, which means two EpiPens in a box. That’s four EpiPens between my house and my daughter’s school, meaning two copays right there. Grandparents, summer camps—that adds up very quickly. And now with this cost of a $300 copay, who can afford to pay that?

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote to the CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, as one mother to another. Explain how you know your daughter is suffering, and whether you’re concerned that people who can’t afford the new price of EpiPen would simply not use it in a crisis situation.

ASHLEY ALTEMAN: Well, the reason that I know that is because that is me. I passed the last prescription, which—this isn’t the first hike since 2007. Last year, I passed; we took our chances, because, at the time, we could not afford to spend the money on refilling the EpiPens for our home and for the school. So, I know that because that is me. You know, from one mother to another, I don’t make $19 million year, as Heather Bresch does. So, you know, I kind of look at it as—you know, I directed a letter at her, like you said, as one mother to another, as, you know, these are our children, and our children’s lives depend on this drug. Without this drug, our children, in a certain instance, running into a life-threatening allergen, can die. And the price increase of 400 percent is a huge problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch appeared on CNBC, attempted to justify her company’s pricing decisions. She was questioned by CNBC’s Brian Sullivan.

BRIAN SULLIVAN: Surely, you must understand the outrage. As somebody I talked to last night said, people are outraged because it seems outrageous that the American Medical Association has said this is basically the same product it was in 2009, and yet the price has gone up 300- or 400-fold.

HEATHER BRESCH: So, the—look, no one’s more frustrated than me. I’ve been in this business—


HEATHER BRESCH: —for 25 years.

BRIAN SULLIVAN: You’re the one raising the price, though. How can you be frustrated?

HEATHER BRESCH: My frustration is there’s a list price of 608. There is a system. There are—I laid out that there are four or five hands that the product touches and companies that it goes through before it ever gets to that patient at the counter. No one—everybody should be frustrated. I am hoping that this is an inflection point for this country. Our healthcare is in a crisis. It’s no different than the mortgage financial crisis back in 2007. This bubble is going to burst.

BRIAN SULLIVAN: What bubble? What are you referring to?

HEATHER BRESCH: So, when you walk up to a counter—I think that it’s fair to say, any time you’re shopping for anything, you know what that product’s going to cost when you walk up to the counter. Only in healthcare—and, in this instance, pharmaceuticals—do you walk up to that pharmacy counter, you could have paid $25 yesterday, and you’re paying $600, $1,000, $2,000. Deductibles went overnight. What’s coming out of a patient’s pocket went from $100 to $3,000.


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