"We're from the government and we're here to help," has become a punchline without need of a set up. But the laughs turn quickly to anger when we keep hearing about how government rules that don't hold up under scrutiny are actually hurting a lot of people. And that anger is reaching a crescendo this week as outrage grows over the soaring cost of Mylan's EpiPen, a life-saving device for children and others with severe allergies.
The price has jumped from about $100 for a two-pack in 2008 to $400 or more today. And, they tend to expire after a year, so you have to replace them every year.
Even Martin Shkreli, who became the poster boy for jacking up drug prices, called Mylan executives "vultures" for the price hike.
I have two daughters with nut allergies myself, and I can tell you that going without an EpiPen is simply not an option for them. But instead of asking the government to come in and provide more help, the solution to this problem is simply to demand that the government start doing a lot less.
It's important to understand exactly what people are paying for when they buy the EpiPen. The cost of the life-saving epinephrine drug itself is minimal. Epinephrine has been around for more than 100 years and is easy to produce. The real costs come in connection to the EpiPen's auto-injector which delivers the drug to people who need it in a much easier fashion than a traditional needle and syringe. Mylan's patent on that auto-injector is the key to everything. And it's the government's protection of that patent that lies at the root of the price hikes that are leaving a lot of families struggling to meet the costs.
Simply put, the government is providing Mylan with a great deal of price protection in two key ways. The first is the high standard the Food and Drug Administration imposes on any competing auto-injectors. The second is the continued knee-jerk rule that makes almost all drugs in the United States available by prescription only.