Lawmakers Approve Bill to Help Pharmacists Dispense EpiPen Alternatives

NJ Spotlight News | September 8, 2016 | Health Care, Politics
A bill would help pharmacists dispense alternatives to EpiPens after Mylan increased the cost of the devices.

By Brenda Flanagan

“This is really rationing of care. This is extreme. This is an example of, if you don’t have the money, you could die,” said Laurie Clark, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Pharmacists Association.

That stark assessment from a pharmacy lobbyist as witnesses today told two separate legislative hearings that some families can’t afford the lifesaving EpiPen since manufacturer Mylan hiked the price — now $600 a two-pack. With a jab to the thigh, EpiPens inject epinephrine for people who are deathly allergic to bee stings, peanuts and other allergens. One pharmacist said a dad didn’t have the $600 to buy it for his child.

“The child went without the EpiPen. It could’ve been a detrimental situation. Eventually he had to save up for it, which took several months. People just go without or they use expired medication they have at home from past EpiPen prescription fills. It’s not the best solution,” said Ruth Marietta, vice president of the New Jersey Pharmacists Association.

“I think for most people this shocks the conscience, that we’re witnessing this kind of, I’ll use the term price gouging, by a company that really has people backed up against the wall,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway.

The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee approved a bill that would help pharmacists dispense alternatives to EpiPens. Mylan declined invitations to attend the hearings but announced recently it’ll market a half-priced generic version of the EpiPen. That offer was met with ridicule before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“Coming out with a generic is only response to the embarrassment that they felt when people — especially families — discovered that the price was so outrageous,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale.

Senators asked several questions: whether the meds really expired and needed replacing every year and whether patients really needed a two-pack of EpiPens.

“We’re forcing parents who don’t have money to go buy something the schools might have already,” said Sen. Robert Singer.

Lawmakers wanted to know about the middlemen — like pharmacy benefit managers — that negotiate prices between drug companies and suppliers. And some want the state attorney general to investigate.

“To join the New York state attorney general to file suit against this company on anti-competitive pricing because they’re selling these EpiPens to school systems but yet in the contract it says they’re not allowed to purchase from another company. How outrageous,” said Sen. Richard Codey.

Witnesses said as the nation works to control rising medical costs, it also needs to confront rising pharmaceutical costs — the price of drugs — in order to achieve real savings. The committee’s likely to hold more hearings.