KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
If you have a severe allergy to nuts or bee stings, you probably know what an EpiPen is. It's a plastic tube and needle that gives a dose of epinephrine when you press it against your thigh. It can be a lifesaver. Mylan, the company that makes it, is under increasing criticism for dramatically raising the price of EpiPens. The list price has gone up more than 500 percent in less than a decade to about $600 for two doses. NPR's Allison Kojak reports Mylan tried to defuse the controversy today by offering certain customers a discount.
ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Mylan's offer would give customers whose insurance doesn't fully pay for the EpiPen coupons worth up to $300. But that's not good enough for Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: This step is much more a PR fix than a real remedy. What's needed is robust, real action to lower the prices for everyone, not just a select few.
KODJAK: Blumenthal says the real problem is the company has a near monopoly on epinephrine injectors, so there may be violations of federal antitrust laws. So Blumenthal and several other senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission to look into it, and they're planning hearings on Capitol Hill.
BLUMENTHAL: At the end of the day, there may need to be stronger legal protections against these types of price gouging and profiteering at the expense of people who need a lifesaving drug where a company has a stranglehold on the market.
KODJAK: Mylan didn't respond to NPR's request for an interview today. The discount coupons may help some customers, says Aaron Carroll, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine. But, he says, in the end, consumers pay for the high prices.
AARON CARROLL: It may look better for me and my co-pay, but they're still charging the insurance company a huge amount of money, which of course gets passed right back to me in the form of higher premiums. So they're not, you know, selling it for cheaper.
KODJAK: Carroll says the public shaming of Mylan that's gone on this week could serve as a warning to other drug makers whose prices are excessive. Alison Kodjak, NPR News, Washington.
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