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Senate panel opens inquiry into EpiPen pricing

| Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, 4:00 p.m.
EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers.
EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers.

A Senate panel has taken the first step toward a formal investigation into Mylan NV's business practices surrounding the skyrocketing prices for its life-saving device EpiPen.

The “preliminary inquiry” announced Wednesday by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations comes amid a handful of similar requests from congressional leaders and demands by consumer advocates for investigations into the drugmaker over its EpiPen pricing. The injector prefilled with a small dose of epinephrine is used to stop potentially fatal allergic reactions to insect bites and foods such as nuts.

“Our review of this matter will be robust, thorough, and bipartisan,” GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said in a joint statement.

Mylan, which is based in the Netherlands and run from offices in Cecil, did not respond to requests for comment.

Consumer advocates and politicians have accused the company of price gouging. The EpiPen price has grown to $608 for a two-pack, up more than 500 percent from around $94 since Mylan bought the rights to the device in 2007. The company faces little competition because a competing generic product from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israel-based rival, has failed to win approval from U.S. regulators.

The company has tried to quell the criticism by offering some patients discount cards of $300, up from $100, to help with the purchase of EpiPen and by announcing plans last week to offer a generic version at half the price. But its offers have not ended outrage from some critics who want the company to reduce the price for EpiPen and from some lawmakers who continue to demand an explanation for the increases.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Portman's office, said he could not speculate on what the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations seeks to accomplish with its inquiry.

“Generally speaking, the goal of this subcommittee is to use its investigative authority to … determine what the facts are. They have a unique amount of authority in terms of subpoena authority and the ability to compel witnesses to testify,” he said.

It will be up to lawmakers to decide what to do with facts it gathers, Smith said.

The subcommittee on investigations is the latest to weigh in on the issue, disclosing for the first time Wednesday that it is conducting an inquiry. The committee has the authority to subpoena records and compel people to testify. A preliminary inquiry can be initiated by committee staff before an investigation or full committee hearing, which require approval from members, according to its rules.

Smith declined to say what steps it has taken to request or demand information from Mylan.

“There was bipartisan discussion among staff about looking into this,” Smith said. “They've had a preliminary inquiry underway for several weeks now. They're just making it public.”

Other congressional committee leaders have made public their request for information from Mylan. McCaskill and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top leaders of the Senate Aging Committee, gave Mylan until Wednesday to respond to requests for information about the pricing of its EpiPen. It is unclear whether Mylan submitted the information. Mylan didn't respond to requests to comment. A spokeswoman for Collins also did not respond. A spokesman for McCaskill declined to comment beyond the statement released by the permanent subcommittee on Wednesday.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has given Mylan until Thursday to respond to a similar request for details about its EpiPen pricing. Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for Grassley, did not respond to requests Wednesday. She has previously said the senator would wait to see Mylan's response “before weighing next steps.”

The Consumers Union on Wednesday joined calls for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Mylan for possible anti-competitive practices and antitrust law violations.

George Slover, senior policy counsel of the Consumers Union, said he hoped that lawmakers would keep applying pressure on Mylan to respond to the concerns.

“We welcome bringing further attention to this,” Slover said. “We think the price hikes are unjustified and are harming consumers and we are glad that people are paying attention to it.”

On Tuesday, the New York attorney general announced an investigation into Mylan over its contracts with school districts in the state for EpiPen. A preliminary review showed the company “may have inserted potentially anticompetitive terms” into sales contracts with many school systems, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. Subpoenas for company information were issued last week.

“If Mylan engaged in anti-competitive business practices, or violated antitrust laws with the intent and effect of limiting lower cost competition, we will hold them accountable,” Schneiderman said. “Allergy sufferers have enough concerns to worry about. The availability of life-saving medical treatment should not be one of them.”

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or The Associated Press Contributed.

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