Thursday, August 25, 2016

Contrary to popular myth: The EpiPen story

Over at The Grey lady, Aaron Carroll (professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine) has a helpful explication of how the current EpiPen kerfluffle came about. He outlines the history of how the EpiPen came into being, and its subsequent history. He notes that, although the active ingrecdient is relatively inexpensive, it's also "inherently unstable. Research shows that it degrades pretty quickly over time, and it’s recommended that EpiPens be replaced every year."

Which makes sense, and I'm generally in favor of keeping med's up-to-date, and of market forces to keep the price of said med's within reach. But as we saw with the Daraprim controversy, sometimes bad actors cause market distortions, and heartache.

We'll come back to that.

But first, it's important to note that Prof Carroll goes to great pains to lay out the timeline, and regulatory issues, which have ultimately lead to a relatively inexpensive - but indispensable - treatment fast becoming out of reach for everyday folks. It's a tale of government recalcitrance and provider avarice, but mostly government recalcitrance:

"[I]n 2010, federal guidelines changed to recommend that two EpiPens be sold in a package instead of one ... In 2013, the government went further. It passed a law that gave funding preferences for asthma treatment grants to states that maintained an emergency supply of EpiPens. As the near sole supplier of the devices, Mylan stood to make even more money."

Which is fine, but then the good Professor concludes:

"EpiPens are a perfect example of a health care nightmare. They’re also just a typical example of the dysfunction of the American health care system."

No, sir, it is most decidedly not that.

And how does your humble correspondent know this?

Well, when one digs a bit deeper, which Prof Carroll apparently did not do, one finds this little gem:

"If lawmakers follow the usual script, Bresch could get called up to Capitol Hill next month to explain her company’s justification for raising the price on the life-saving allergy shot. But that could be awkward, since she’s the daughter of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia."

So what Prof Carroll characterizes as an indictment of the (admittedly dysfunctional) health care system is really just a very simple, sordid example of rent-seeking, enabled by the powerful relative of the manufacturer's CEO.

Case closed.
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