An EpiPen epinephrine auto-injector, a Mylan product, delivers a measured dose of epinephrine to treat an allergic reaction. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)

An EpiPen epinephrine auto-injector, a Mylan product, delivers a measured dose of epinephrine to treat an allergic reaction. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)

Whidbey Island rep wants to reduce sky-high costs for EpiPens, inhalers

Rep. Dave Paul wants to reduce the cost of the drugs to just $35 out-of-pocket.

OLYMPIA — Rep. Dave Paul has seen the cost of his family’s life-saving medications skyrocket in recent years.

Two of his four children live with asthma while another has food allergies, making inhalers and epinephrine auto-injectors, or EpiPens, a must-have at all times.

On Monday, a two-pack of EpiPens at the Safeway Pharmacy in Everett cost $389 without insurance. A 30-day supply of a generic albuterol inhaler cost $78 without insurance.

House Bill 1979, sponsored by Paul, would put a cap on the costs of inhalers and EpiPens so customers with insurance would only have to pay $35 out of pocket.

“These drugs have been around for decades, so it’s really frustrating that the out-of-pocket costs have increased,” said Paul, a Democrat from Oak Harbor, in an interview.

In 2007, Mylan Pharmaceuticals acquired the exclusive rights to sell EpiPens in the United States. At the time, the price was around $100. By 2016, Mylan had increased the price to more than $600, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health.

Rep. Joe Schmick, the top Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, thinks the solution to the high cost of EpiPens is to allow more pharmaceutical companies to market the drug and create competition.

“Anytime you put an artificial cost on something, it shifts to someone else,” he said.

Allergies and asthma can be easily controlled with these drugs, so they need to be affordable, Paul said.

Bridgett Edgar, a former pharmacy technician at the now-closed Pharm A Save in Monroe, sees families choose to not fill these prescriptions because of the cost.

She finds it concerning the lifesaving drugs aren’t 100% covered by insurance.

Most insurance covers the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan, but the cost of EpiPens remain high, she said.

Amy Garrett, a pediatrician on Whidbey Island, worked alongside Paul as he crafted the bill.

On a daily basis, she sees patients whose treatment for worsening asthma is delayed because their parents can’t afford the cost of inhalers at the pharmacy, she told a state House committee last week.

If children don’t have access to the drugs, it could lead to more frequent emergency room visits, Garrett cautioned.

“This higher level of care costs everyone far more than the inhaler, including missed school days and missed work days for their parents,” she testified.

Paul said drug manufacturers often offer rebates to customers, but with the high out-of-pocket costs, there are still many who can’t afford the medication.

“When a child goes into shock after exposure to a specific food allergen, epinephrine is the only medication that reverses the process, yet the cost has increased six-fold over a decade,” Garrett said.

EpiPens, which have a printed expiration date on the medication, are typically good for 12 months after acquired by the patient.

The health care committee is expected to vote on Paul’s bill Wednesday, potentially moving it one step closer to the House floor.

The proposal follows legislation in 2023 to lower the cost of insulin for diabetic patients to $35 per month per patient.

This article has been updated to add comments from Rep. Joe Schmick.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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