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Standard Deviations: Mylan’s EpiPen fiasco can’t be unseen

By Mark Saal - | Aug 28, 2016

The registered trademark for the pharmaceutical company Mylan is the three-word slogan, “Seeing is believing.”

Well, I’ve seen it, and I still don’t believe it.

Indeed, many of us have road rash on our chins after hearing tales of the amazingly pricey EpiPen. In a world where old technologies tend to get cheaper over time — think TVs, desktop computers and smartphones — apparently that doesn’t hold true for 1970s-era medical devices like the EpiPen.

EpiPen is the brand name of an auto-injector device currently owned by Mylan N.V. The injector delivers an emergency dose of epinephrine, a synthetic version of adrenalin, when someone develops anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction to, say, peanuts or shellfish.

RELATED: EpiPen company maneuvered to create a virtual monopoly

According to multiple news sources, the cost of a two-pack of the injectors has risen from less than $100 in 2007 to $608 in 2016 — something like a 500-percent increase.

I know, right?

It’s hard to believe this is anything but a classic case of good old fashioned price-gouging.

RELATED: Why the new EpiPen coupons are more about helping the company than helping you

Why the staggering increase by Mylan? Because they can. The company has what amounts to a virtual monopoly on the auto-injector industry, thanks to patents and other governmental protections, the loss of competitors, and laws that require these allergy injectors in public schools. Last year, Mylan did $1 billion in sales.

This past week, company CEO Heather Bresch — who is rapidly wresting the label of most hated woman in America from the current title holder — has been doing some major damage control. There’s been a firestorm of criticism from the general public, and both the White House and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (speak of the devil) blasted Mylan for the increases.

Mylan’s answer? “Hey everybody! How’s about a coupon?”

Why, of course! Who doesn’t love clipping coupons to save a few bucks on a pizza? Or, a life-sustaining medical device?

See, Bresch didn’t simply drop the price of the drug and delivery system, but she did triple the discount patients can receive to $300. For many Americans, that still puts the out-of-pocket cost at $300 for two of the EpiPens. And, as critics have pointed out, this coupon ploy merely shifts the exorbitant cost of the device to insurance companies and other groups that, in the end, will pass it along to the consumer. In other words, we’ll likely still end up paying full sticker price for this lemon.

Bresch took to the news shows and social media recently in an attempt to put a little lipstick on her company’s prize pig. But frankly, the explanations rang hollow.

“Look,” she told CNN at one point, “no one’s more frustrated than me.”

We’ll pause here, allowing that statement to land …

No one, it turns out, is more frustrated with the fact that Mylan charges an arm and a leg for a necessary life-saving drug than the head of the very company that set the price at those particular appendages.

But wait, there’s more: According to NBC News, Mylan raised the price of EpiPens 461 percent between 2007 and 2015. During that same time period, Bresch’s total compensation from the company went from about $2.5 million to $18.9 million — a 671 percent increase.

So you’ll forgive the rest of us, Ms. Bresch, if we have a difficult time believing that you’re anywhere near as frustrated over a 500-percent increase in the drug price as those of us who aren’t millionaires and haven’t seen 600-percent raises in our careers over the past decade. All funded, I might add, by the very medical device in question. 

There is a silver lining in all of this: According to ABC News, Mylan recently announced it would be giving away 700,000 free EpiPens to schools.

Free? Hardly. I’ll give you three guesses as to who’ll end up paying for all those “free” auto-injectors.

Bottom line? Mylan’s slogan is dead wrong. Seeing isn’t believing. In fact, seeing all this is not only unbelievable, it’s very nearly inconceivable.

Still, as expensive as it is, Mylan’s EpiPen is a necessity for those children and adults whose allergies put them at risk for going into anaphylactic shock.

Now if only somebody in Big Pharma could invent an auto-injector for those of us currently experiencing apoplectic shock.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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