Lawmakers have made several proposals to reduce health-care costs such as the price of the EpiPen

Congress and Supreme Court Buildings / CEO of EpiPen Manufacturer Mylan to Testify at House Hearing on Price Increases
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September 15, 2016

Heather Bresch, embattled CEO of EpiPen manufacturer Mylan, will testify about the dramatic price increases of the emergency medical device in a hearing in the House of Representatives on September 21.

Bresch will testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), likely facing hard questions about her company's pricing strategy.

The hikes have generated heavy criticism from consumers and lawmakers alike, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In the weeks after the EpiPen controversy, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been working hard to figure out how to lower the costs of health care. Some people believe that this is the issue with all the necessary elements for bridging the partisan divide on health care: price increases for a potentially-lifesaving emergency medical device used by children combined with increased numbers of high-deductible health insurance plans that have made consumers more aware of how much the treatment actually costs.

Mylan has already committed to help patients save on costs by providing savings cards and developing its own generic version of the branded device.

However, many lawmakers believe that government action may be necessary. Some have asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) why quick approval of EpiPen competitors that would force the price down is not possible. Others believe that the agency must go even further and regulate the prices of emergency medications.

Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluable and Research at the FDA, reassured consumers in a blog post of the agency's commitment to making sure they can trust available products and also said that it knew that competition could be improved by new product and medication approvals.

"We stand ready to quickly review additional applications that come to us from manufacturers, especially applications for generic versions," she wrote. "To speed along the process, our Office of Generic Drugs prioritizes and expedites our review of applications for first generics, making sure that the first applicants to make a generic are moved to the head of the queue and given priority review."

Meanwhile, Senators Tammy Baldwin and John McCain intend to present a bill that would require drug manufacturers to provide the Department of Health and Human Services with a 30-day notice of and justification for any increase greater than 10 percent of the price of prescription drugs. As Baldwin is a Democrat and McCain is a Republican, the presentation could be seen as an indication of bipartisan interest in the problem of health care costs.

Lawmakers believe that consumers' outrage-fueled advocacy has been a boost to their proposals for reducing health care costs. Although some of these plans resulted from outcries over drug pricing that occurred prior to those over the cost of the EpiPen, consumers did not at that time, lawmakers believe, have the experience or control to rally on problems like the price of health care.

"We really do have the opportunity to have these patients be advocates in bringing public pressure to bring down health-care costs," said Representative Ami Bera, a Democrat from California who is among those who want the FDA to regulate emergency drug prices. "You are seeing how quickly electeds on both sides of the aisle are rallying around the EpiPen issue."

Health-care economists believe that consumer engagement in these issues has resulted from increasing numbers of high-deductible insurance in both plans sponsored by employers and plans that consumers purchase independently. The appearance of these plans means that consumers now have to pay many of the costs upfront and out-of-pocket before the coverage provided by the plans begins to pay.

New data recently released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that roughly 40 percent of people under 65 have a high-deductible health plan, up from 25.3 percent in 2010.

Such exposure to the actual costs of products sometimes prompts consumers to reduce the amount they spend on discretionary items. However, when it comes to a life-saving medication—especially one needed by children—there appears to be a different result: some consumers become advocates who suddenly discover common interests with other health-care payers who want to reduce the costs of health care, such as insurers, government agencies, and big employers.

"When you're paying $20 as a copay nobody looks at what the thing costs," said James Baker, head of patient advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education. "This is the first thing that really has hit people. The fact is that it's a kind of life-or-death thing."

However, not every expert believes that the EpiPen outcry can be considered a turning point in activism driven by consumers. American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow Tom Miller stated that, although those who have "skin in the game" can take different action on health care costs, the same cannot be said for the millions of Americans over 65 enrolled in Medicare, nor for the younger consumers enrolled in private plans with low deductibles and Medicaid.

References: WSJ