Milwaukee Parents Struggle to Buy Potentially Life-Saving Medication

Aug 9, 2016

The price of EpiPens has surged by 450 percent since 2004. They used to cost around $100 for two, but now average more than $600 each. That drastic price hike means many parents are now struggling to find the money to pay for the medicine that could save their child’s life.

Kelly Becker has two children with severe food allergies, and any time her kids eat, there could be a reaction. Becker talks about the time her daughter accidentally ate regular ice cream at her birthday party, rather than the soy that had been set aside for her:

"She took one bite, and one of her little friends saved her life, and said, Mrs. Becker, something’s wrong with Gracie, and I looked at her and she was coughing and her face had swollen, and she said my throat is itchy, and she had to throw up, and started throwing up."

The price of EpiPens have surged by 450 percent since 2004.

A swollen face and vomiting are just some of the symptoms of anaphylaxis, a severe – potentially deadly -- allergic reaction to things like food or insect bites. Anaphylaxis can be treated with a jolt of epinephrine, which is most often delivered with an EpiPen. But the stunning increase in the cost of EpiPens recently has made auto-injectors difficult for parents, even insured parents, to buy.

Dr. Michael Pistiner, an allergist who is a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology here in Milwaukee, says he sees it all the time. Pistiner says, "I am hearing some of the families are opting to carry expired auto-injectors, or, if they have a high deductible sometimes they say do they really want their auto-injector, and do they really need it?"

Why is the price of EpiPens soaring?

"The drug corporations have the unlimited ability to charge very high prices for live-saving medications," Robert Kraig says. He's is the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

"Of course, people will try to pay it because of the importance of it, and so the result is price gouging of the worst kind," he adds.

Mylan, the drug company that makes EpiPen® Auto-Injector, sent WUWM a written statement about the increasing price of the medicine. Here is an excerpt:

Mylan does not set the final retail cost of its products charged to patients. One would have to look across the many parties that constitute the distribution channel as they all play a role in the ultimate access and retail price of prescription drugs in the marketplace.

With changes in the healthcare insurance landscape, an increasing number of people and families are enrolled in high deductible health plans. This shift, along with other insurance landscape changes, has presented new challenges for consumers, and they are bearing more of the cost. This is not an easy challenge to address, but we recognize the need and are committed to working with customers and payors to find solutions to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve.

In the meantime, parents struggle, and juggle, to pay for the medicine their kids need. Mom Kelly Becker says she needs to buy ten two packs a year to have enough to stock EpiPens at all the places where her children spend time. Even with good insurance, that’s $500.00. She can’t afford that all at once, so she staggers her purchases throughout the year.

And Becker knows her family is lucky. She says, "Both of us work, so we’re able to figure that out, but so many families are not as fortunate as we are, and it’s just a shame. It’s dangerous."

Here in Wisconsin, state Representative Debra Kolste of Janesville has proposed legislation she hopes will reduce the cost.