EpiPen controversy highlights bigger problems with health care

The EpiPen can be a lifesaver. Many parents carry it everywhere in case a child has an allergic reaction to food, medication or a bee sting that could result in breathing difficulty. School nurses often keep dozens. Teachers and coaches are trained to use the device.

So it is disturbing that EpiPen’s manufacturer, Mylan, has repeatedly hiked the price of its star product, an auto-injector of epinephrine, a hormone that can counteract severe allergic reactions. The price has risen from $57 per pen in 2007 to more than $600 for a pair today. Patients often have to buy multiple sets, and also must repurchase them annually because the epinephrine loses its effectiveness.

What’s more, there’s no equal alternative: Competitor Auvi-Q was recalled. Adrenaclick, another competitor, is not as well known and doesn’t have sufficient supply. Food and Drug Administration regulators, meanwhile, rejected a potential generic version of EpiPen this past spring.

Mylan responded to this week’s uproar over the EpiPen price by offering a savings card that could cut the cost by up to $300. That should help some patients, but not all. The drug’s price, after all, is still the same. And it doesn’t solve bigger problems at hand.

The EpiPen case underscores the myriad complex issues in our health care landscape, including unregulated price hikes for prescription drugs, higher insurance deductibles, complicated government regulation, and the difficult terrain to get generic versions of drugs to the market. Elected officials have called for state, congressional and Federal Trade Commission investigations, and those should still happen. There are no simple answers, but we can’t wait for a tragedy to occur, or another company to hike the price of another lifesaving drug, before we start understanding the problems and trying to find solutions. — The editorial board