Mylan thought new access plans would quell the EpiPen tempest. It was wrong

It didn’t take long for the backlash to start after Mylan crafted what it hoped would calm an intense EpiPen pricing crisis. Following the drugmaker's Thursday announcement to expand patient access programs without lowering the med’s price, critics pounced, calling the tactic “inadequate and cynical.”

Notably, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)--who this week wrote Mylan ($MYL) CEO Heather Bresch requesting an “urgent briefing” to explain EpiPen's prices--pointed out that the patient access programs won’t help people on government healthcare plans such as Medicaid and Medicare.

“That means that millions of patients will not benefit from the actions Mylan is taking in issuing patient assistance cards,” Collins said in a statement, adding that EpiPen is 480% more expensive than when Mylan acquired it in 2007.

“A host of questions and concerns remain,” she continued.

Thursday, Mylan said it would cover up to $300 in EpiPen out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy, cutting in half what certain patients pay. The drugmaker also pledged to double its patient assistance eligibility, "effectively eliminating out-of-pocket expense for uninsured and under-insured patients."

"We recognize the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter," Bresch said in a statement. "Patients deserve increased price transparency and affordable care, particularly as the system shifts significant costs to them."

But Pharmaceutical Care Management Association CEO Mark Merritt accused Bresch of trying to shift the blame for a problem of the company's own making. Comparing Mylan's moves to those taken by Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) and Turing Pharmaceutical, Merritt said the company "is simply the latest drugmaker trying to re-frame a pricing problem into a coverage problem.”

“Blaming payers for these massive prices hikes is a red herring and doesn’t pass the laugh test with policymakers,” Merritt continued.

In a separate twist, Bresch went on CNBC to defend the company, but ended up stoking the flames by seeming to reference Mylan’s lobbying efforts in Congress to make EpiPen more widely available at schools. CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner piled on to the cricism, calling the new access plans “wholly inadequate and incredibly cynical.”

“I come to this issue not only as the head of an organization that fights for moms and their families, but as the mother of a son who has life-threatening anaphylactic allergies to foods,” she said.

In a tweet earlier this week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that “there’s no justification” for the EpiPen price hikes, a post that spooked investors industrywide and raised fears that government action could hurt pricing power following the November election.

Mylan is not alone in taking criticism for price hikes. Besides those called before congressional inquisitors for aggressive pricing, Big Pharma players such as Pfizer ($PFE) have drawn some attention for consistently raising prices on established drugs. 

There was one somewhat sympathetic voice in the melee. In a note this week, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal said the company’s EpiPen tactics weren’t any different from AbbVie’s ($ABBV) strategy with Humira or Sanofi's ($SNY) with Lantus, other than that those drugs are “much” bigger and have larger impacts on healthcare budgets overall.

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