It's been plastered all over the news for the past week: the price of EpiPens has increased 400%. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the company behind the price hike, is the new Martin Shkreli, who became infamous in late 2015 for raising the price of a drug 5,556%. The EpiPen uproar, along with Shkreli's Daraprim chaos, both drew extraordinary amounts of media attention for their potentially fatal impacts, and both were portrayed as simple, linear problems by the media, when there's actually more factors than often reported. It's more than just one person's evil decision to make more money, though profit likely factors dramatically.
But still, even with obvious awareness of the abuse, why is this allowed to happen? The issue is, to some extent, the fault of a broken health care system, as Mylan CEO Heather Bresch credited it. Still, that doesn't justify Mylan's abuse of it.
The EpiPen, which quickly injects a precise dose of epinephrine to stop an allergic reaction, is a lifesaving device. It's price hike does threaten its accessibility and availability, even though Bresch has stated on record that 700,000 free EpiPens were given out to 65,000 schools. EpiPens also need to be replaced yearly, to be effective, as epinephrine, the drug inside, degrades fairly quickly. Although, epinephrine itself actually costs only $1 per milliliter, with less than a third of that amount actually held by the injector. There's really no reason for the EpiPen to cost the $600 (or $300 for the soon-to-be-released alternative) it currently does. There wasn't really a reason for it to cost the $100 it did prior to these headlines either.
So again, why is this allowed to happen? The EpiPen injector is proprietary, protected by patents owned by Mylan and enforced under U.S. patent law. As a result, Mylan has virtually no real competitors, and likely won't anytime in the near future, as such patents prevent competitors from creating any similar injector. Some injector is necessary, as during an allergic reaction, epinephrine needs to be injected quickly and in the correct dose.
These two factors, demand and absence of competition, hand an easily monopoly on the market over the Mylan, which combined produced a 400%, potentially dangerous, price hike. And these, ultimately, are the issues that have resulted both in Shkreli and Bresch's ability to manipulate and abuse the market so dramatically. Even so, the issue can't be easily resolved by changing or removing the patent system.
Patents exist to protect an innovator, and for good reason. A large motive in innovation is profit, and if an innovator can easily be copied and lose out on benefiting from any innovation, that motive dissipates. So, patents grant innovators a temporary monopoly, ranging from 14 to 20 years depending on the item, before anyone else can produce something similar. Absent such patents, innovation likely decreases. With such patents, abuses similar to that of EpiPens and Daraprim are made possible.
The system perhaps, is indeed broken. But I'm not here to boast or even suggest a solution. Rather, I'm simply writing this to inform. There's often more to an issue than a headline can suggest, and, more than one party at fault.