I developed anaphylaxis without warning at seven years old. I had no idea the decision to eat a boiled egg would bring such dire consequences. But after one bite, my lips swelled to the size of a life preserver and my throat began to close up. That was the first time I went into anaphylactic shock. The only thing that saved my life that day was a paramedic who administered the live-saving injection of an EpiPen. Eggs became my enemy and an EpiPen became the only solution.
After 20 years, carrying an EpiPen, the common treatment for extreme allergic reactions, has become as second nature as breathing; I never go anywhere without one. Last week, I was outraged to learn the price of a two-pen pack had risen from $461—already an unreasonable price—to $608.61. In the past nine years, the drugmaker Mylan has raised the cost of EpiPens by more than 400%. For me, a two-pack of EpiPen will now cost roughly $400 in America with insurance. In response to outrage, Mylan announced Monday that a generic version will be sold for $300—still incredibly prohibitive for many Americans.
This medicine is essentially another appendage for me and the more than 3.6 million Americans who filled their prescriptions last year. Carrying an EpiPen is an essential, not a commodity. It’s extremely hard to control a severe allergy—and I don’t even have one of the most severe cases. Food is such an essential part of everyday life and cross-contamination and other mistakes do happen. It’s hard to ignore just how much financial pressure insurance and pharmaceutical companies can exert over me and those with similar severe allergies.
This culture of profit over people has devastating domino effects, particularly where this drug is concerned. It’s dangerous to use an old or expired EpiPen, so after a year you’re supposed to back at the counter purchasing another EpiPen prescription. But faced with rising costs, how many people will stretch that year past the expiration date? And the problems go beyond this current crisis. Even if the EpiPen were to become affordable, using it can put a dent in your bank account. When an EpiPen is administered, a hospital visit is advised to make sure you don’t relapse or need more than one shot. Depending on how good your insurance is, that visit can cost thousands.
Still, I’m relatively lucky in all of this. I have a job with insurance and I will likely be able to foot the bill when I need a new prescription or need to visit the hospital after an attack. (Even so, I consciously save money for this very scenario.) But there are millions of families across the country where one bill, prescription, or trip to the hospital could derail the future of their family.
The hypocrisy becomes even more obvious when I think about the first 20 years of my life spent in the United Kingdom. I have dual citizenships in the United Kingdom and America and moved stateside in my early twenties for work and travel. I have first-hand experience with the United Kingdom’s nationalized health service, a sharp contrast to the United States’ privatized healthcare system. In Scotland, I could visit my general practitioner for a new EpiPen prescription and it would only cost me £8.40, or approximately $11. I wouldn’t have any costs for the visit, nor for any following hospital admittance or paramedic support. In the United Kingdom, I know that when I go to the doctor or hospital the main focus is on my treatment without major concerns about my insurance and deductibles.
Here in the United States, we don’t have that luxury. I always think about the cost of a potential hospital visit versus the contents of my bank account. The Bill First, Take Questions Later mentality in America’s healthcare system makes it hard to find exact information about how much things cost and as an educated person, I’ve tried. America’s healthcare system is dizzyingly complex.
Making drugs unaffordable to people is immoral. Pharmaceutical companies are so concerned about making a profit that they are forgetting about the people they are supposedly trying to help: people like me, who have life-threatening health problems with few solutions. To make an obscene amount of profit on the backs of vulnerable people shows greed at its worst.
I’m already afraid for my life when I eat. Now Mylan has made me afraid for my financial security—and the security of the millions who carry EpiPens.