The mounting congressional scrutiny of pharmaceutical giant Mylan over its 400 percent price hike for EpiPen has created an awkward situation on Capitol Hill for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin -- his daughter runs the company at the center of the scandal.
Colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are now slamming Mylan and demanding investigations into why prices were jacked so high on the lifesaving allergy treatment drug.
The uproar over the increase has become a public relations nightmare for Mylan, CEO Heather Bresch and Manchin, who finally broke his silence on the subject Thursday.
“I am aware of the questions my colleagues and many parents are asking and frankly I share their concerns about the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs,” Manchin said in a written statement. “Today I heard Mylan’s initial response, and I am sure Mylan will have a more comprehensive and formal response to those questions.”
Manchin, a former West Virginia governor who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2010, said he would work with his “colleagues and all interested parties to lower the price of prescription drugs and to continue to improve our health care system.”
But his comments come days after his colleagues called out his daughter’s company.
Several senators – including Amy Klobuchar, whose daughter uses an EpiPen – have pressed the Food and Drug Administration for answers and asked if alternatives to the EpiPen are in the works.
Klobuchar also wants the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing to investigate the enormous increase in the price of EpiPens. The Minnesota senator sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether Mylan violated antitrust laws.
For its part, the company said Thursday it is voluntarily reducing the patient cost of EpiPen through savings cards which will cover up to $300 for a two-pack of EpiPen, but some say it’s not enough.
Admittedly, Manchin is in a tight spot. In the past, he has taken the lead in going after pharmaceutical companies.
He played a big role in pushing to get controversial painkiller Zohydro ER permanently shelved despite the FDA approving the powerful opiate.
Manchin, whose home state leads the nation in prescription overdoses and abuse, worked with both Republicans and Democratic lawmakers to overturn the approval.
At the time, some questioned his motives, since his campaign to kill Zohydro could benefit his daughter’s company.
Though the Mylan epi-scandal hits close to home, Klobuchar believes the senior senator’s connections in Congress won’t deter his colleagues from pursuing answers.
“I think we have an obligation to the American people to do our job regardless of who is related to who at a company,” she told reporters Wednesday. “And I have never seen Senator Manchin intervene himself in any of these cases involving this company. I’ve never seen that happen. I know him very well.”
On Monday, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mark Warner, D-Va., also sent a letter to Bresch demanding an explanation.
Bresch tried to defend the company's pricing in an interview with CNBC. She seemed to struggle to justify the jump in price but said lowering the price wasn’t an option.
“Had we reduced the list price, I couldn’t ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen gets one,” she said. She argued that much of the $608 price for a two-pack goes to other middle men in the health care consumer chain.
But Grassley said in a statement that the price is still what Medicare and insurers have to pay, regardless of the pledge to offset the cost for some patients.
Another fact not lost on angry customers is that as the price for EpiPens grew, so did Bresch’s own compensation, which spiked more than 671 percent to $18.9 million last year.
The price hike debate has also made it to the campaign trail.
Clinton called the company’s pricing strategy “outrageous” and a “troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers.”