Disturbingly, the biggest back-to-school expense for some families this season might not be new clothes or even a laptop computer, but rather the cost of a lifesaving medical gadget.
EpiPens – those thigh-jabbing devices used to treat allergic reactions to nuts and other foods, as well as bee stings – have soared in price, going from below $100 a pack in 2007 to more than $600 today. School administrators, doctors, and parents rightly question whether this astronomical increase is a case of price gouging.
The product’s maker, European-based Mylan, pins people’s sticker shock partly on the rise of high-deductible health care plans that compel consumers to pay more out of pocket. The pharmaceutical firm also issued a statement saying that many buyers don’t pay a penny for its injection pens, thanks to insurance coverage and the company’s $100 coupon.
Even so, plenty of people are drawing comparisons between Mylan and a schoolyard bully who pressures kids to hand over their lunch money.
A “Stop the EpiPen Price Gouging” online petition, intended to spur congressional action, has inspired about 150,000 people to sign on.
“There is no discernible reason for the increase,” the petition reads, “other than Mylan’s desire to use their monopoly to exploit the need for this life-saving medication for exorbitant profit.”
Public schools and government institutions shell out money for the auto-injectors, each of which reportedly contains about $1 worth of epinephrine. Families sometimes purchase multiple packs, enabling them to stock the home, car, and school backpacks. Plus, each EpiPen pack expires after a year, necessitating replacement.
In recent days, The New York Times, USA Today, and most other major media outlets have spotlighted the public’s EpiPen-induced backlash. Online medical site WebMD even broached the topic this week, reminding consumers of a cheaper, though less reliable, alternative.
“Then there’s the old-fashioned way: A syringe filled with the proper dose of epinephrine,” said the WebMD article. “It’s not as simple as the EpiPen, but it still does the job and remains the typical method in other countries.”
Mylan’s critics most recently took aim at the company’s executive salaries, a graph of which would closely mirror the rapid rise of EpiPen prices. Its CEO’s total compensation shot from about $2.4 million in 2007 to last year’s haul of more than $18.9 million, according to an NBC News report.
The Federal Trade Commission has been asked to investigate.
For students, the EpiPen situation might turn out to be this school year’s first and most revealing lesson – a look at human behavior, economics, and capitalism run amok.
Cincinatti native David Bauer is an experienced editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.