Policy

EpiPen Crisis Hitting Senators Close to Home

Klobuchar, Warner among senators with kids with allergies

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, right, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar both have adult daughters who rely on the EpiPen. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The debate over the cost of EpiPens isn't just politics for some lawmakers.

It's personal.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia both have adult daughters who rely on the drug injector.

Klobuchar's daughter, Abigail, 21, keeps one with her because of a nut allergy.

A spokeswoman for Warner said the senator's youngest daughter, Eliza, 22, is so prone to allergic reactions that she actually needs to use EpiPens regularly — and the Warner family keeps them around the house.

Lawmakers are renewing their push to combat the rising cost of the device, which injects a potentially lifesaving dose of epinephrine to counteract potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. 

A Klobuchar aide said that in addition to pushing for investigations of EpiPen manufacturer Mylan, there will be yet another push on drug reimportation.

[Democrats: EpiPen Cost Curbing Is PR Move, Not a Fix]

"We need to pass my bills to change current laws that give pharmaceutical companies the upper hand in bargaining prices for prescription drugs, make it easier for consumers to import prescription drugs from Canada, expand access to cost-saving generic drugs, and deter pharmaceutical companies from blocking cheaper alternatives from entering the marketplace," Klobuchar said Thursday. "It's this simple — if you have a life-threatening illness, then you should have affordable access to the lifesaving medication you need."

Members from both parties have written letters to the Food and Drug Administration about the matter, and have threatened to launch investigations into the skyrocketing cost. The price of a two-dose pack of EpiPens has risen from around $100 to more than $600 in less than 10 years.

As news spread about the price hike, public outcry prompted Mylan to implement measures to curb some of the costs. But some lawmakers slammed the company’s action as a "baby step" and a "PR move."

EpiPen price increases are not exactly new, but getting the attention of senators who do not have a personal connection to the drug only came after news reports spurred the recent uproar.

[Blumenthal: Manchin Connection Shouldn't Affect EpiPen Investigation]

It also was a product of direct outreach from constituents. Hundreds of people have contacted Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office with concerns since the start of July, and recently, dozens of queries have come in on a daily basis.

Among the letters to the Democrat was one from Jill Negro, a mother of two young boys from Wallingford, Connecticut, who are not yet kindergarten age.

Negro reached out to elected officials through an online petition a few weeks ago after the most recent price jump. She paid $599 for a two-pack at the end of June, and her local CVS pharmacy said the price has since escalated to $734.

In an interview, Negro said Blumenthal's office requested to use part of her letter anonymously in the senator's missive to Mylan about the price hikes.

[No Family Favors for Senator's Daughter and EpiPen CEO]

Negro said she had heard Mylan CEO Heather Bresch point to the increased use of high-deductible health plans as a way to explain the swelling out-of-pocket costs, but that simply was not the case.

"I've actually had a high-deductible health plan since 2005," she said. "So, this isn't new. I knew about the cost of the EpiPens. I kind of budgeted about $2,000 a year."

Blumenthal said in an interview that he began hearing “some time ago” about “price gouging” for EpiPens, and he started talking to parents, doctors and educators.

“It sort of hit a critical mass in terms of public attention,” he said. “We have been talking to people and working on it for a long time.”

Blumenthal said his office has received hundreds of communications about the issue. He said the impending school year may have spurned some of the attention , since parents realized they were going to have to purchase EpiPens that their children could bring to school.

“The attention now is much more intense than it ever was. It’s really ignited almost a firestorm,” Blumenthal said. “Even if their child is not directly affected, they know of someone or they know someone directly, or their child may have seen one of these intense reactions at school. The phenomenon is not an isolated or singular one.”

Saying she was about to cry, Negro admitted that she does not know how she will be able to afford to send her children with significant allergies to school when they reach the appropriate age. She said it it is her understanding that there's a requirement to supply EpiPens with valid prescriptions for school and sports that are separate from the supply at home.

"Nobody has indicated that [they] have been able to use the free pen that's in the nurse's office," Negro said. "I don't [know] anyone personally that hasn't had to buy a separate one."

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report.

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

Contact Bowman at BridgetBowman@cqrollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc.

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