On Wednesday, Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, which makes the EpiPen, got a grilling in Congress over the 500% increase in the price of her company’s lifesaving drug that’s used to treat severe allergic reactions.
She did not go prepared.
“You knew what this hearing was about. I’m asking questions that if you’re the CEO I think that you would know,” said ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland.
One specific question she couldn’t answer is one that Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants answered ASAP for more companies than just Mylan.
Cummings asked her how much Mylan spent on patient assistance programs.
Last month, Warren sent an eight-page letter to Bresch signed by 20 senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), demanding to know more about Mylan’s patient assistance programs.
Bresch had said the company would expand these programs to give more people access to the drug – something you see across the drug industry these days.
Warren and a number of other politicians, including Cummings, believe that pharmaceutical companies use patient assistance programs to preserve drug prices. The companies say they’re helping people, but it’s just an excuse for them not to lower prices.
“These changes will help some customers who are struggling to afford EpiPens. Your discount programs, however, represent a well-defined industry tactic to keep costs high through a complex shell game,” Warren wrote in her letter.
“When patients receive short-term co-pay assistance for expensive drugs, they may be insulated from price hikes, but insurance companies, the government, and employers still bear the burden of these excessive prices. In turn, those costs are eventually passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums.”
In Mylan’s case, Warren wants a breakdown of: how many people have used Mylan’s coupons and programs, how much they save, how many people Mylan expects will save money now that the programs have been expanded, how much discounted EpiPens have cost insurers, how consumers are directed to these assistance options, details about its EpiPen4Schools program, and more.
But, as we said, Bresch had no specifics on that at the hearing. (She also didn’t show up with some of the documents Congress asked for regarding how much Mylan makes on EpiPens.)
That probably means this isn’t over for Congress or Bresch.
For more background on the EpiPen mess, listen to BI’s Josh Barro and Linette Lopez talk about it on their podcast, Hard Pass: