Q&A: EpiPen Sticker Shock
Q: With regards to your look into drug pricing, why should the federal government ask questions about a private company’s pricing strategy?
A: As Iowa’s elected representative in the U.S. Senate, I give high priority to having dialogue with my constituents. Representative government is a two-way street. Holding meetings in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, reaching out on social media, conducting tele-hall town meetings and responding to every email, letter and phone call from Iowans helps me make sure I bring the concerns of Iowans to the policymaking tables. I work to hold the government accountable and to protect taxpayers. That includes conducting robust oversight of the federal bureaucracy and making sure the laws of the land are faithfully executed and enforced. At times, my oversight work keeps check on the public business in the private sector to make sure tax dollars are spent as intended and that the laws are followed to keep the marketplace fair and free. As a fiscal conservative, I work to strengthen our system of free enterprise so that it fosters competition, works effectively and encourages entrepreneurship and innovation for all Americans. From agriculture to banking, trade, pension, health care and immigration laws, I work to expose mismanagement or wrongdoing to make sure anti-competitive practices don’t create unfair advantages that squander tax dollars, disadvantage consumers, stiff pensioners or harm farmers in the free and open marketplace. The bottom line is that hundreds of millions of tax dollars are spent on Medicare and Medicaid and even more to support health coverage throughout our entire health care system. Patients and taxpayers deserve answers.
Q: What are you looking to achieve with your look into the EpiPen pricing controversy?
A: With back-to-school season, parents, schools and daycares are stocking up on their annual supply of a life-saving prescription medicine called EpiPen. This self-injectable medicine delivers an emergency dose of adrenaline to counteract a severe allergic reaction. In the last few years, parents were getting stuck with a strong dose of sticker shock. They found that the price had been increasing significantly, climbing more than 400 percent in recent years. A number of Iowa families wrote to me asking questions about the huge price increase, costing more than $600 out-of-pocket to fill one prescription. Not only was this price hike hitting household budgets hard, but it also would impact school budgets and taxpayer-financed programs such as Medicaid and HAWK-I here in Iowa. When more than 40 percent of the nation’s children receive their health insurance coverage through Medicaid and CHIP, there’s going to be a substantial hit to the taxpayer funding state and federal health programs when a pharmaceutical company sets a 400 percent price increase on a commonly prescribed drug for kids. From that vantage point, I wanted to make sure the taxpaying public isn’t being taken for a ride. That’s when I set out to get answers. Within days of my letter to the drug company requesting written responses about the rationale for the surging price of an EpiPen prescription, the company made an effort to fend off the firestorm coming from social media, the press and Capitol Hill. The CEO announced the company would expand its discount program with a $300 rebate coupon for some patients, but not all. That’s a good step. Needless to say, I’m not done with my review of EpiPen pricing. I have yet to receive a written response to my questions, such as the company’s advertising budget and an analysis of the 400 percent price increase. I’ve also written a bipartisan letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to learn more about its review and approval process for alternative products and whether the medicine may be considered someday as an over-the-counter medication. With millions of children suffering from severe peanut and other food allergies, it’s important that the FDA is taking steps to ensure there’s an adequate supply of self-injectable epinephrine on the market. In the meantime, I will continue working to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. I’ve also introduced legislation to deter pharmaceutical companies from anti-competitive business practices that delay or block less expensive drugs from reaching the pharmacy shelves. Getting safe, efficacious and affordable medicines into the hands of Americans is a value we all share.