Lawmakers demand answers over soaring cost of potentially life-saving EpiPens

Three senators have written to drug maker Mylan, asking for an explanation for the nearly 500-percent price hikeof EpiPen, a potentially life-saving medical device for people with severe allergies.

The EpiPen faces little competition -- the drug accounted for 87 percent of all epinephrine prescriptions pharmacies filled last year. That included sales from a competing brand, which have since recalled its product.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said she understands the importance of the EpiPen. She first learned her daughter needed one when she was four years old.

“We gave her a cashew. Her whole throat closed up,” Klobuchar said. “I still remember that panicked drive to the hospital in Grand Marais, Minnesota. I didn’t know if we were going to make it. She couldn’t breathe.”

Klobuchar is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the manufacturer of the device, Mylan, has violated anti-trust laws.

“To do that to a parent, to tell them, ‘well yeah, that costs $100 five years ago but now it costs $600,’ that just can’t happen in this country,” Klobuchar said.

In a previous statement, Mylan said the EpiPen’s price “has changed over time to better reflect important product features and the value the product provides,” adding: “We’ve made a significant investment to support the device.”

Republican Senator Charles Grassley is now asking the company to “explain the changes Mylan has made… that have caused it to increase the price.”

But one prominent and controversial figure is defending the increase.

“This particular drug is a necessity for some people,” Nair said.

“Yeah sure, that’s great – but I think important medicine should be expensive because they’re valuable,” said Martin Shkreli.

The former pharmaceutical chief gained notoriety last year by ratcheting up the cost of a malaria and HIV medication by 5,000 percent.

He defended the EpiPen’s increase from about $100 for a two-pack in 2009, to more than $600 this year.

“Everyone can understand in a free market that dollars rule,” Nair said. “However, these are life-saving drugs. People don’t have a choice whether they can buy them or not.”

“Yeah well, that’s up to insurance to pay for them. Like I said, it’s three hundred dollars a pen. Three hundred dollars. My iPhone’s $700,” Shkreli responded.

“But you don’t need an iPhone to exist,” Nair said.

“Yeah, that doesn’t matter though because it’s three hundred dollars and 90 percent of Americans are insured,” Shkreli said. 

CBS News contributor Dr. David Agus criticized the price hike.

“To me, it’s a predatory practice and it’s almost monopolistic because they’re taking advantage of the patient,” Agus said.

Shkreli smirked and took the fifth when lawmakers questioned him about his own price increase of a drug called Daraprim. He has been indicted in an unrelated securities fraud case, but says in his opinion, the EpiPen remains a bargain.  

“Mylan sort of found themselves in my shoes in the sense that they bought a company, that company had a lot of old medicines, a lot of those old medicines had old prices that weren’t reflective of modern prices,” Shkreli said. “Three hundred dollars, they’ve been raising it slowly about 15 percent every six months which is relatively slowly -- not as fast as what I did. My guess is Mylan probably thinks that they could sell this thing for $1,000 a syringe. And with, now with these news reports, they probably won’t.

Shkreli has no connection to Mylan and EpiPen. Mylan offers coupons which allow many families to pay little or nothing for the EpiPen. But families with no insurance or high deductibles are still paying hundreds of dollars. 

As the EpiPen’s price has risen, the total compensation of Mylan’s CEO is up more than 600 percent over the past decade.