Health

EpiPen’s CEO Under Fire on Capitol Hill

Low-energy response to consumer outrage over price gouging leaves lawmakers unimpressed

Legislators gave Mylan CEO Heather Bresch nearly a month to gather information for Wednesday’s hearing on the outrageous price hikes of the EpiPen.

Either Bresch didn’t come fully prepared — or she purposely tried to skirt some of the questions the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had for her. One of those was: How much did the company profit each year for the past 10 years?

“It’s unfair to us when we ask for documents and we don’t get what we want,” said one lawmaker.

“One thing that is absent from your documents is your company profits for each year,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s top Democrat. “Do you know how much you are now charging for the EpiPen? I think the American people have a right to know how much you and your fellow executives are making off these exorbitant prices.”

Cummings added, “It’s unfair to us when we ask for documents and we don’t get what we want. That means the hearing is over, and we have lost a chance to get the information we need.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle grilled the head of the pharmaceutical company about the significant cost increase of its life-saving EpiPens. Bresch said she wishes the company had “better anticipated the magnitude and acceleration” of the rising prices for some families.

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“We never intended this,” Bresch said, as she maintained that her company makes only $50 in profit on each emergency allergy shot and signaled the company has no plans to lower prices, The Associated Press reported. A two-pack of EpiPens currently costs $608, a price hike of more than 500 percent since 2007.

House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he’s not buying it. Executives for the company made $300 million over five years while the list price of a pair of the emergency allergy shots rose. Bresch alone took home $18 million in salary last year.

“This is what happens when the consumer is not paying directly for things,” said one author.

Although Mylan is putting a generic version on the market for $300 for a pair and offering coupons, critics say nothing Bresch has come up with so far offers any real solutions.

Lee Ellis, a Vietnam POW and the author of “Engage with Honor,” says the whole situation reveals a toxic problem in the pharmaceutical industry and beyond: People are failing to do the honorable thing.

“If I were the CEO of a company right now that was charging $600 for that package of shots, I would be publicly transparent and working through that problem to make it reasonable. Explain what happened — that they made a mistake, and that they will fix it. I think people can understand that. What the public doesn’t like is cover-ups and spin. We’ve had that for too long,” Ellis told LifeZette.

In other words — we are absolutely in this situation because of a lack of accountability.

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“This is what happens when the consumer is not paying directly for things. Look at televisions or laptops — the capacity of these instruments has gone up considerably but the price has stayed the same. Then look at what is happening in Medicare and education. The price of an education and health care have skyrocketed because there’s a payer in the system that is not the consumer,” Ellis said.

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People should be able to choose “this product over that product.” They should also decide if they’re willing to pay for something. Right now, in this situation, these aren’t possible. “It becomes a few people controlling the market and then, what are they going to do? Well, they’re going to take all that they can. And it’s legal.”

Ellis added that Bresch and Mylan are doing what all the other drug companies have done. “There’s a precedent for it.”

Related: Why You’re Paying More for Care

“It’s human nature to start looking after ourselves more than others and taking advantage of a situation that’s in front of us. Not everybody does that, but most grab what they can when they can, and that’s what is happening here. And it’s being done by other industries where you have few people competing,” said Ellis.

“Without accountability, bad things happen.”

Congressional leaders plan to hold Bresch accountable. In the Senate, leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ investigations subcommittee have also begun an inquiry into the company’s pricing and competition practices. The Aging Committee requested briefings on the issue, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has written several letters to Mylan demanding answers, AP reported.

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