As the controversy over Mylan Pharmaceutical’s steep price hikes for its EpiPen continues to fuel the debate over skyrocketing drug prices, consumers have a more simple issue: Is there any way to get this medicine for less and still be protected in an emergency?
People with severe allergies rely on the EpiPen. More than 40 million Americans have allergies to food or insect bites that can cause severe reactions including anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly. The EpiPen is filled with the hormone epinephrine, which can counter severe allergic reactions.
But the price forfrom about $94 in 2007 to more than $600 now. (The pens are sold in pairs to ensure there’s enough medicine on hand to handle an emergency.)
If you’re one of the many allergic individuals or the parent of an allergic child who needs to carry an EpiPen at all times, consider this advice from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and other health experts.
Check your insurance. If you have a high-deductible health plan, either through the exchanges or your employer, you may find you must pay the full cost of the EpiPen until you meet your deductible and your insurance kicks in. As open-enrollment season approaches, you may want to do the math again, especially if you or your covered family members regularly takes prescription drugs. With drug prices rising across the board, you may find the higher premium cost of a plan with Rx drug coverage will cost you less overall.
Take a tax break. If you still find going without Rx drug coverage is best for you, be sure to check if you’re eligible to save money for medical expenses in a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). With those accounts, you can pay pretax dollars for your high-price drugs, taking out some of the sting.
Pay attention to expiration dates. The pens expire in a year, so if you can manage to time the expiration and your next purchase toward the end of the year when your deductible is more likely to have been spent, you may be able to get coverage.
Compare prices. Different pharmacies offer different prices on almost all drugs. Big-box stores like Walmart (WMT) and Costco (COST) have become major competitors on price. At the same time, local pharmacies often offer the best deals. It all depends on where you live. Comparison-shopping sites like GoodRx can make shopping easier.
Even if you have prescription drug coverage, it pays to compare prices. The amount of your co-pay may differ from pharmacy to pharmacy, depending on what terms your insurance company has negotiated with each outlet.
Consider the alternative. One of Mylan’s (MYL) competitors in the epinephrine auto-injector market, Auvi-Q, pulled out of the business when manufacturing problems forced a total recall of its product.
However, a lesser-known player called Adrenaclick also sells epinephrine in single-dose injection devices but at a lower price, in some cases half the price of the EpiPen. Adrenaclick also offers a generic version of its product. Your doctor may be able to help you determine if it makes sense to switch to the less expensive brand.
Remember, in this case, you’re paying for the injector, not the drug. Epinephrine is extremely common and inexpensive. It’s the injection technology that differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. Consumers also differ in terms of their comfort level with different injection instructions. Again, your doctor can help.
Use Mylan’s discount and assistance programs. Mylan offers a coupon of up to $100 for consumers to help offset expensive co-pays. You can find more information here. Unfortunately, the coupons don’t apply to people paying the full cost of the drug out-of-pocket whether they have no insurance or high-deductible insurance. The increase of people with high-deductible health care plans paying full freight for their EpiPens is one of the reasons the prices hikes have come into such sharp relief lately.
Mylan is also part of a patient-assistance program that offers relief for low-income patients in need of EpiPens. You can find eligibility requirements here.
Take care of those pens. Although these devices are designed to be carried with you -- and with any luck you’ll never need them -- pay attention to temperature and other storing directions. You don’t want to have to throw out a batch because of exposure to extreme heat, cold or light. Tempting as it is to keep a pack in the car, tuck it in your bag or pocket instead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.