Is there anything members of Congress love more than the chance to haul a wayward CEO to Capitol Hill to lecture them about their companies’ un-American transgressions? The CEOs of the Wall Street banks got the indignant Hill treatment in 2008 after the mortgage meltdown. The CEOs of the Big Three car companies did too, only to be scolded at a later hearing for flying private jets to Washington for the first one.
Man-child and bad boy pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli sat in front of House members for hours during a House Oversight hearing in February while angry committee members unloaded on him for price gouging, spurred on by the fact that Shkreli had taken the Fifth at the start of the hearing and called them “imbeciles” on Twitter before and after he appeared in Washington.
So it’s easy to imagine the public shaming that would be waiting Heather Bresch on Capitol Hill in September under normal circumstances.
Bresch is the CEO of Mylan, the company that has been hiking the price of the EpiPen, the only available single-dose epinephrine system for people severely allergic to anything from peanuts to bee stings. Since Mylan bought the EpiPen from Merck in 2007, the wholesale price for a two-dose pack has jumped from about $100 to more than $600 this year, a price the American Medical Association called “exorbitant” on Wednesday, especially with the actual cost of the drug still at about $1 per dose.
Even with that disparity, you could make the case that $600 is still a bargain to save anyone’s life. But people buy EpiPens to stash around their homes, schools and offices in case of a severe allergic reaction, not to treat an individual episode. So they’re typically buying six to 12 doses of a drug they hope they’ll never use and restocking it every 12 months when it expires.
Since many families are buying them for young children, Mylan’s own literature recommends stocking separate double-doses of EpiPens for “home, babysitter, work, relatives, school, and travel,” including backpacks and additional family cars.
To quickly see how widespread the use of EpiPens is, I asked six friends with young children if anyone in their family uses an EpiPen and if they are running into problems with the cost. Of the six women, four stock EpiPens in their homes, cars and children’s schools for their children with allergies.
But all four women have delayed buying this year’s supply because of Mylan’s price hike. Although none of the children’s allergies has ever been life-threatening before, one mom explained, “The doctors say, ‘You never know when it could turn life-threatening with allergies,’ so it’s super scary.” Another said her prescriptions had expired but she hasn't replaced them because the price is just too high. "What do I do?"
Bresch and Mylan have said that they have programs to make EpiPens more affordable. One program, which Mylan calls the “Co-Pay Card” promises that consumers can get six doses of the drug for “$0.” But the fine print on the program specifies that the offer only covers $100 of the $600 price of a two-dose pack and is not valid for anyone on Tricare or any other federal or state health care program or in an “ineligible” insurance program.
Even people with insurance are routinely paying up to $300 out of pocket for each two-pack, which quickly adds up to $900 or $1,200 that a family may or may not have in the bank.
Add to these details the fact that the Mylan CEO’s compensation has spiked more than 671% in the same time frame, to $18.9 million last year, and the Outraged Congressional Hearing script practically writes itself. Or it would, if Bresch were anyone other than the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat.
It’s hard to imagine the U.S. Senate dragging the daughter of one of their own up to Capitol Hill to face the same kind of grilling Shkreli or other tainted corporate leaders have endured in years past, but they should. If there is a case to make for the price increases, Bresch, as the CEO, can make it. If there is outrage to be heard over the effect the skyrocketing prices are having on parents, who literally fear for their children’s lives, Bresch should hear it.
No matter how painful it might be for Manchin to see his colleagues interrogate his daughter, I promise it won't compare to the feeling in the pit of the stomach of a mother or father this week staring at a $900 bill for EpiPens and thinking to themselves, "What do I do?"
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.