Examining the News

EpiPen prices have been rising for years. What made people finally notice?

Saad Asad



The price of the life-saving allergy medication EpiPen has steadily increased since pharmaceutical company Mylan acquired the drug in 2007. In fact, the company has increased the price 15% every other quarter since the end of 2013.

But only recently have the media and consumers revolted over this “price-gouging.” To confirm this trend and better understand what finally brought people’s attention to the topic, I turned to Quid in order to analyze thousands of articles published on EpiPen’s prices over the past two years.

While media coverage of this phenomenon only recently increased, other publications have tried to cover the issue. A local Connecticut newspaper, The Valley Advocate, ran a story with the headline “Anaphylactic Sticker Shock” in August 2014. And the magazine Pacific Standard also covered the rising prices in their story, “A Simple Way to Save Lives — If You Can Afford It” in December of that year. Similar stories continued to trickle throughout 2015, but none of them stuck. 

Did Bernie power outrage against Mylan?

NBC News published an article with the headline “EpiPen Price Hike Has Parents of Kids With Allergies Scrambling Ahead of School Year." It began with this jaw-dropping lede: “The cost of saving your child’s life has gotten a lot more expensive.” None of the information in the article was particularly unique compared to the previous local news stories that covered the price hikes, but it did have one unique aspect: a comment from Bernie Sanders. The former presidential candidate excoriated the company and claimed, the “drug industry’s greed knows no bounds.” He then went on to tweet the article to his 3.3 million followers. Unsurprisingly, social shares for that article skyrocketed, and it was the beginning of the end for Mylan.

The New York Daily News also picked up the story the next day, resulting in additional social shares. And NBC News continued their coverage of the situation by obtaining a statement from the despised “pharma-bro” Martin Shkreli, who appeared to condemn the company’s gradual price rises. This story was also widely shared, and it appeared enough was enough as right after the weekend, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) inquired in to the company’s pricing practices.

Exorbitant executive pay seal’s Mylan’s fate

Still, the final nail in the coffin for Mylan’s exorbitant pricing strategy was another story from NBC News that found the CEO’s pay rose 600% over the same period as EpiPen’s prices rose.

After such damning coverage, Mylan relented, rolling out a new initiative to sell an "authorized generic" EpiPen in the next few weeks for $300 for two pens, compared to its current posted price of about $609 for one. This may not quiet all critics, nor will it recuperate the company’s reputation, but it may be enough to at least dampen outrage for now.

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