EpiPen price increase reveals failings in health care system

Robin Boch, Contributing Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily represent the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Pharmaceutical company Mylan recently made a very controversial announcement that it would once again be applying a steep increase to the price of EpiPens, devices that inject epinephrine into one’s thigh in order to reverse allergic reactions.

This unnecessary price increase represents a monumental capitalist failure in our health care system, and federal intervention is necessary to curb this instability.

When Mylan acquired rights to EpiPens in 2007, the cost was just $57. Today, however, a two-pack costs over $600. There is only about $1 worth of epinephrine in each EpiPen and it is reported that the rest of the device costs just a few more dollars.

In light of this realization, as well as many other recent raises in the prices of drugs and medical procedures that sometimes draw the line between life and death, it is evident that something is wrong with the lack of government involvement in our health care system. If our health system is not reformed, Americans will continue to be exploited and overcharged.

Due to limited competition and no other option for patients who are in need of EpiPens (another brand was recently recalled and similar products such as AdrenaClick are known to be less reliable and more difficult to use), Mylan has continued to raise the price while drawing in just as many customers. It is a near-monopoly because the government has not done anything to prevent it.

Rather, the United States government has actually encouraged Mylan’s endeavors by passing bills that require EpiPens in schools, on airplanes, etc. It is unacceptable for our government to continue supporting this billion-dollar industry if it does not set limitations on price-gouging or intervene in some way.

The EpiPen scandal is just “the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers,” Hillary Clinton said when addressing what she believes should be done to stop this trend. Numerous drugs have recently been the subjects of dramatic price increases, which has only escalated the situation.

In one 2014 report by the House of Representatives, for example, it was found that ten different generic prescription drugs were subjected to price increases in 2013. These increases ranged from 420 percent, which is similar to the recent price increase of EpiPens, to over 8,000 percent, and this trend of exploiting patients and gaining more profits has only continued. 

Another concerning example of corporate greed in the pharmaceutical industry is when Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, increased the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750. Daraprim, similar to EpiPens in that it can be necessary to save one’s life, is the only known medication that successfully treats the infection toxoplasmosis. Additionally, the pill can help co-treat HIV, malaria and some cancers. Even after receiving negative attention in the media, Shkreli was somehow still comfortable with his decision to increase the price so significantly.

“I probably would have raised prices higher, it is probably what I should have done,” Shkreli said in an interview with CBS. “I could have raised it higher and made more profits for our shareholders. Which is my primary duty.”

Those who make a case for market-driven health care argue that this is the best option to ensure that customers have more influence on what products succeed and corporations have the ability to explore and innovate after considering consumers’ demands.

As idyllic as this sounds, when comparing the U.S. to other countries without free market health care, one can see that the benefits of government involvement greatly outweigh the costs. Free market health care often results in high prices for life-saving drugs, which lowers accessibility and, overall, forces patients to spend more when they could spend less for the same quality.

Though it is unlikely that the majority of Tulane students are reliant on EpiPens or Daraprim, for those who are, the hefty price tags attached to these drugs are becoming unmanageable. 

“What this causes me to do is just not get new EpiPens.,” Tulane freshman and EpiPen owner Sam Cross said. “My allergies aren’t incredibly severe and I’ve never had an attack, so I’m just banking on not having one in the future either.” 

Forgoing purchasing sometimes lifesaving drugs because of the high price is becoming a real trend for both people who can and cannot afford them. Unless something changes soon, very few people will have access to these drugs, which would be accessible in a controlled market.

It is unacceptable and ethically wrong for pharmaceutical companies to continue price gouging medications, and the only way one can surely prevent this is to allow for government intervention in U.S. healthcare.

Robin is a freshman at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]