Hawaii families struggle with skyrocketing price of life-saving drug

EpiPen is a life-saving drug for those who have allergies, but it’s becoming less affordable for some, including those who have medical insurance.

It’s a device that injects a dose of medicine to prevent the effects of allergic reactions.

Mylan, the company that produces the drug, has constantly raised the price.

Advocacy groups and lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are already calling for an investigation into the company.

Meanwhile, here at home, doctors are wondering how much longer Hawaii families can afford the drug.

“It went up from $100 for two pens to $200, $300. Now I think it’s up to as high as $600,” said Dr. Michael Sia, a pediatrician with Kapiolani Medical Center.

Sia treats kids with allergies to bee stings, peanuts, as well as other food items, and has always prescribed the EpiPen to prevent what’s called anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly.

Lately, he’s been getting calls from parents worried if they can keep buying EpiPen.

“We hear the calls and they’re very reluctant to call us as pediatricians to say the medicine that’s going to be a life-saver really costs a lot and I don’t know if we can budget this for our kid,” Sia said.

Sia says there was another company that provided a similar injector treatment, but was forced to recall the product last year.

Most insurance companies cover part of the cost, but Sia says even with the coverage, families wind up paying in the hundred of dollars. That’s because most families need to keep two or three sets around to make sure they have one at all times.

“Oftentimes you have extended families. You’re visiting aunties, uncles, or you’re going to grandma and grandpa as far as after-school care, so people really want to make sure that they have some kind of a backup plan just in case,” Sia said.

The medicine expires after a year, so EpiPens have to be thrown out.

Sia says some families have resorted to buying the actual medicine in the device, along with syringes, so they can inject the drug when needed.

“There’s a lot of room and error and mistake in terms of safety,” he said.

“It’s not something you would recommend?” KHON2 asked.

“I don’t think so,” Sia said.

KHON2 contacted the company which sent us a statement that said, “In 2015, nearly 80% of commercially insured patients using the My EpiPen Savings Card received EpiPen Auto-Injector for $0.” It adds that it is “committed to working with customers and payors to find solutions to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve.”

HMSA says the majority of its members aren’t affected by the increase since they’re protected by a set co-payment of $30.

HMSA adds that there is a generic form of EpiPen that costs $7. HMSA encourages members to talk to their doctor to see if it’s the proper alternative.

Full statement from HMSA:

While the retail price of the EpiPen® has increased, the majority of our members aren’t affected by the increase since they’re protected by a set copayment. In our most popular commercial plans, the copayment for the EpiPen is $30. This is one of the advantages of having an HMSA plan. We’re able to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to keep the prices of these types of drugs affordable for our members.

There is a generic epinephrine auto-injector that’s used the same way as the EpiPen®. The copayment for a generic drug is $7 for most of our commercial plans, but members need a prescription for it. We strongly encourage our members to talk to their doctor to see if the generic version is an appropriate alternative.

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