Congress probes EpiPen price hikes

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are mounting pressure on EpiPen maker, Mylan pharmaceutical, calling for an explanation for the 400 percent price hike on this popular medicine used to treat allergic reactions.

It's lifesaving medication with the press of a button, that's the appeal of the EpiPen, something people like Jane Walter relies on in case she has an allergic reaction.

"I carry one with me and I keep one in my car," Walter said.

Walter is allergic to foods that contain corn and the dramatic price hike has put the medication out of reach.

"It's outrageous. I'm on a fixed income. We retired in 2011 and I decided to stop taking my allergy treatment because of it," she said.

In 2009, a two pack of EpiPens cost about $100. Today, it's around $600 depending on where you buy and what state you reside.

So how can a company like Mylan jack the prices up so high?

"The manufacturer has market dominance, not quite a monopoly but 90 percent of the markets, so they can set any price they want," explained Allan Coukell, an expert on drug pricing with Pew Charitable Trusts.

Coukell says the complex mechanics of the EpiPen is the reason why there aren't yet generic copies.

“There are competing products that do something similar, but they aren't identical," Coukell explained. "One way or another, if we could get more competition in this market, it would have an effect on prices.”

"You can't let a company with a monopoly run wild," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Grassley sent a letter to Mylan's CEO asking for an explanation. He says he wasn't pleased with the company's response.

"They didn't get into the technical issues of why the price actually went up," Grassley explained. "They are using as part of the reason for the price increases, the sophistication of the product."

Next week, lawmakers will question Mylan's CEO in person. Heather Bresch will appear before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

Patty Judge, Grassley's opponent for Iowa's open Senate seat on the Epipen crisis, in a statement saying "the cost of prescription drugs including EpiPens is out of control... in the U.S. Senate, I will work to address the crisis, not stand in the way of the solutions."

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