GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - The cost: $735. That’s how much the pharmacist told Angie Karsten she would owe for her son Brady's EpiPen this year, a stark difference from the typical $20 price tag in years prior.
For 10-year-old Brady Molag, EpiPens are a lifeline. He suffers from a severe peanut allergy, that could put him in the hospital without the proper medication. He ended up in the hospital as a one-year-old, when his parents first discovered his allergy. Since then, Karsten said they've had Epipens at every place he may be. But this year, that changed.
The family could only afford a two-pack of a generic brand, Karsten said the one she keeps in her purse is actually expired now.
“I didn’t have any warning that this was going to happen and you know if you don’t have the EpiPen… that’s a life,” Karsten said.
Health advocate Lody Zwarensteyn said these high prices have nothing to do with the costs to make these drugs, and everything to do with what big pharmaceutical companies think the market can bear.
"Is it uranium they're putting in there... is it solid gold... no...it's chemicals that usually don't cost a whole heck of a lot," Zwarensteyn said.
Zwarensteyn said he attributes the high prices to the chumminess between lawmakers and big pharmaceutical companies.
Congress passed a measure that made it illegal for federal government to negotiate drug prices. In the meantime, many members of congress received thousands from pharmaceutical lobbyist. Michigan's own Representative Fred Upton received $855,081 over the last 26 years.
Upton declined multiple requests for an interview, and provided the Watchdog team with this comment:
“The struggle so many endure to pay for drugs vital to their quality of life is a very serious issue. And so lowering the costs of drugs for Michigan patients and families is something we’ve been working towards for some time now. From our nonpartisan 21st Century Cures initiative, to demanding information on the review process of generic drugs, the Energy and Commerce Committee has been deeply involved on this critical issue. 21st Century Cures in particular will put patients first, delivering hope and new cures and treatments. Progress continues to be made, and we must get the job done for patients across the country."
The Watchdog team reached out to Pfizer in Kalamazoo to ask them about the increasing price of prescriptions drugs. They declined an interview, as well, but provided the follow statement:
"Patients are facing challenges when it comes to out-of-pocket health care costs and these challenges need to be addressed. At the same time, we need to look at these cost drivers holistically and ensure we maintain a health care system that supports patient access to treatments and fosters the development of tomorrow's cures.
“New medicines are transforming care for patients fighting debilitating diseases like cancer, hepatitis c, high cholesterol and more. In the midst of all this progress, the share of spending on retail medicines remains the same as it was 50 years ago. In fact, government actuaries project that spending on prescription medicines will grow in line with overall health care spending through the next decade. This is possible due to a competitive marketplace for medicines where significant negotiation occurs and generic utilization rates are nearly 90 percent. While the price of a medicine may increase or decrease over its lifetime, prices fall dramatically as competition occurs among brand-name medicines – and even further with the introduction of generics.
“With that, the biopharmaceutical industry is committed to finding ways to build on and improve the competitive marketplace for medicines. Pragmatic solutions such as continuing to address the generic backlog and exploring financial and regulatory incentives to encourage generic entry could enhance the market. We should also update regulations to help increase certainty and predictability for payers and address outdated regulations that pose challenges to innovative payment arrangements, while preserving important patient protections. In addition, we should enforce common-sense rules to prevent discrimination and remove barriers to accessing care. If we focus on these issues, we can enhance the private market and improve patient access to high quality, patient-centered care.”
But to parents like Karsten it is all hard to swallow.
"How long until someone dies because they can't get their Epipen?" Karsten asked.
Have you experienced the side effects of high drug prices? Tell us about it here.
(© 2016 WZZM)