Are Drug Coupons Behind the Jump in the Cost of an EpiPen?

The high price of Mylan’s EpiPens is getting a lot of attention lately.

In a way that’s good. Not just so that something will finally be done about high drug prices, but because more people need to know about food allergies and about the importance of having and using EpiPens. That is one thing Mylan got right. Their education and awareness campaigns not only encouraged parents to get EpiPens for their kids, but they strongly encouraged them to use them.

Just a ploy to sell more EpiPens? Not when you realize that many people are afraid to use their EpiPens, even when they are having a severe allergic reaction.

Still, they certainly got greedy with the continued price hikes.

Although we are getting used to hearing about high drug prices, they typically aren’t for drugs that your pediatrician prescribes everyday.

You were likely outraged when Martin Shkreli raised the price of Darapim to $750 a pill, but you probably still have no idea what it is used for. On the other hand, you may have or almost certainly know someone with an EpiPen.

An epinephrine autoinjector is traditionally the only treatment for people having anaphylactic reactions to peanuts, insect bites and stings, or other serious allergic reactions.

Why fuss about the cost of a life-saving drug or device? A product that can save your child’s life in a manner of seconds would be priceless to most people.

Much of the issue is that they went from costing about $100 in 2006 to over $600 today. Even last year, a set of two EpiPens (one dose) cost up to $450. So it would be nice to have that option to save lives and save money. Afterall, the very same EpiPens are much cheaper in most other countries.

Surprisingly, it has been the media and not parents or patients who are doing most of the complaining about the high cost of EpiPens. Most of us have insurance and can use a coupon to waive their copay and effectively get their EpiPens free. Those without insurance may not be able to see a doctor to get a prescription, but if they can, may be eligible for Mylan’s patient assistance program.

So who is paying full price?

Mostly people with high deductible insurance plans, at least until they realize that they might save money going with a more costly insurance plan without a deductible, especially if family members have other medical problems, like asthma.

Why asthma?

Have you priced an asthma inhaler lately? Those that you use to prevent asthma can easily cost $300 to $400 each month. A rescue inhaler can cost another $100.

Competition hasn’t helped us get less expensive asthma inhalers. You will need a coupon for that.

Drug coupon use by patients could “come at the cost of higher long-term expenses for themselves and society.” That was a warning in the New England Journal of Medicine editorial “Prescription-Drug Coupons — No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”

Unfortunately, instead of heeding the warning back in 2013, some companies adopted it as a business model.

Martin Shkreli didn’t do anything original when he bought the rights to the antiparasitic drug pyrimethamine and rebranded it as Darapim, raising the price 5,000%.

For example, although Lupin Pharmaceuticals makes many generic medications, they chose to license Suprax, an expensive antibiotic with a coupon, as a branded generic. So while a similar generic antibiotic, such as cefdinir, might cost about $50, Suprax costs about $250 to $400 for a 10 day course. It will also likely be on the highest and most expensive tier of your insurance, which is why they offer a coupon.

Impax Laboratories, another big maker of generic drugs, takes the cake though. They are selling Emverm for $596 a pill. A chewable pill that is used to treat pinworms, with two doses over two weeks, that means one treatment to stop your child’s butt from itching can cost almost $1200 – unless you use their coupon. An inexpensive generic version of the very same medicine, Vermox, was discontinued in 2011.

It was discontinued by Teva Pharmaceuticals, who then sold the rights to the drug to Amedra Pharmaceuticals, which was then acquired by Impax.

An off-patent, generic drug, Vermox should have been getting cheaper, not having its price soar. The fact that they offer consumers free coupons, meaning they won’t actually pay for the drug, likely explains how they get away with it.

Of course, we all end up paying. There is no free lunch, except maybe when the drug reps for these companies drop off those coupons at your doctor’s office.

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