Aug 25, 2016

Epi-Pen: The Cost to Save a Life

Chances are, you’ve heard of the grossly inflated price of the Epi-Pen, a life-saving medical device carried by many who suffer from allergies.

Due to the efforts of a small but vocal army of “allergy moms,” the general public now knows what we’ve been upset about for years: Mylan, the company that manufactures Epi-Pens, has been raising the price to the point where many families struggle to pay for this medicine (1).

However, the question remains. Why did Mylan keep raising the prices (in 2009, the price was roughly $100; now, it is $600)? The CEO, Heather Bresch – a U.S. Senator’s daughter who makes $18 million a year – hasn’t given a clear answer. As a comparison, Epi-Pens cost about $100 a set in Canada, where the government regulates the cost. (2,3)

While I don’t know why a set of Epi-Pens costs so much, I do know this:  When my child was blue and limp, in the throes of an anaphylactic reaction to nuts, epinephrine saved his life.

Put bluntly, he needs access to an Epi-Pen every second of every day in case he comes in contact with his allergens (tree nuts, peanuts and sesame seeds). We don’t carry them, stock them in our home and provide them to his school “just in case.” We do so because he will die without immediate access to this life-saving medication.

For this, we pay hundreds of dollars a year –with health insurance. These pens, really the only “game in town” to deliver epinephrine to allergy patients, expire after a year or so, too. So this is something my family, and many other allergy families, has to budget for.

And most families have multiple sets: One to carry when out of the home, one for the home and one for school/daycare. That is hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year, depending on your insurance coverage, for a needed medicine to keep your child alive.

Maybe that seems excessive to a non-allergy family, but for those of us who have watched our children experience anaphylaxis, it is necessary. Seconds count, and you need an Epi-Pen readily available at all times. 

So why do I keep saying Epi-Pen? Isn’t there another option? The truth is, not really. Epi-Pen’s major competitor, the Auvi-Q, was recalled last year and is no longer manufactured. That has left only one real alternative that few people know about and have used. This alternative, which some insurance companies won’t even cover, also isn’t readily stocked by pharmacies and isn’t listed in my son’s school paperwork. The nurses and staff at his school aren’t trained to use it. So to us, it isn’t a viable alternative – at least not for now.

Today, Mylan announced it would help subsidize the cost of the Epi-Pen via a rebate, due to rising scrutiny and public outcry. But they didn’t lower the cost of the Epi-Pen and a rebate is only good for some families. (2)

Maybe you know someone with a life-threatening allergy who needs an Epi-Pen. Maybe you don’t. Either way, price gouging by a major pharmaceutical company raking in millions of dollars on the backs of people who just want to keep their children safe is abhorrent.

For many of us allergy families, we’ve already paid far too much for our Epi-Pens because school has or will start soon and we have needed to get this life-saving medication and all the reams of paperwork ready for teachers and administrators who are tasked with keeping our children safe. 

We couldn’t wait – so we paid. Or we couldn’t pay, so we pray.


Metro Detroit Mommy Writer: