EpiPens – lifesaving but costly
I’m allergic to bee stings, so I keep an EpiPen handy when I’m working out in my garden this time of year.
But my EpiPens are more than 3 years old now, and it’s time to invest in a new set.
Why do I say invest? Because EpiPens are incredibly expensive!
Related post: First aid for bee stings
I didn’t know that three years ago when I bought them. At that time, my health insurance did not include coverage for prescription medications (all ACA-compliant plans must now), so I paid the full price out of pocket.
I thought the pharmacist had made a mistake when I looked at the charge—$349! How could that be right? Epinephrine has been around forever; it’s as ordinary as aspirin, for heaven’s sake!
“Three hundred and forty nine dollars?” I asked the tech. “Is that right?”
The poor man looked beleaguered. I’m sure I wasn’t the only customer who’d squawked about the price. He just shrugged sympathetically and said, “Well, there are two pens in the package.” (In an allergic emergency, one pen is sometimes not enough, so now EpiPens are only sold in a twin pack.)
That price for EpiPens was three years ago. I just looked up the current cash price at the same pharmacy on GoodRx: $637.33. Yikes. And that’s with GoodRx’s discount coupon.
Why so expensive?
First, although epinephrine is cheap, it’s the method of delivery—the single-use, auto-injector—that is so expensive.
And that’s maddening because it was developed by the US military—with taxpayer money—for use on the battlefield.
Second, it’s a case of supply and demand. In the last decade, there has been a steady increase in the number of children with severe allergies. Because of this, most schools and day cares are now required to have EpiPens available on site.
Families are often stuck buying two sets of EpiPens, one for home and one for school. Or even more, if they have more than one child with a life-threatening allergy.
Related post: Kids and allergies
Third, pharmaceutical companies these days are massively increasing the price of all drugs, even generics. Why? Basically because they can. (For perspective, an EpiPen in 1986 cost just $35.59).
Drug pricing is one of the driving forces behind rising healthcare costs, and it’s a subject of much debate in the healthcare industry and Congress.
How to save money on EpiPens
EpiPens have an expiration date of 12 to 18 months. Mine are over three years old, so I do need to get new ones. I have no idea how much it will cost me, and I’m trying to do a little research and know my options to find the best price.
1. Know your insurance benefits
My bronze plan doesn’t have a prescription drug copay. I have to pay full price until my deductible ($6,350) is met.
Other plans have a brand-name co-pay that is anywhere from $0 to $100, depending on the plan. Generic co-pays are usually much less, in the $0 to $25 range. Know your co-pay!
Talk to a customer service rep at your insurance company to get help navigating your prescription drug benefits. My company offers a case manager who could help me find the best price or give me information about drug assistance programs.
2. Compare prices
Use an online price comparison tool such as GoodRx to see how much different pharmacies in your area are charging for EpiPens.
No doubt EpiPens have the most name recognition, but there is another brand-name auto-injector on the market: Adrenaclick. At my pharmacy, it’s priced at $484.93.
Not much of a savings, but some.
Until recently there was a third brand, Auvi-Q, but they were forced to issue a total recall of the product a few months ago because of a manufacturing problem. Last I heard the company, Sanofi, isn’t going to continuing making the Auvi-Q injectors.
3. Opt for the generic version
It’s not well known, but the makers of Adrenaclick do offer a generic version of their product. It’s so generic it doesn’t even have a name!
It’s tricky to get the generic version and there is a lot of confusion because doctors cannot just check the “OK to substitute a generic” box on the prescription, like they can with most other medications. The FDA doesn’t consider these auto-injector devices to be therapeutically equivalent, so won’t allow substitutions. If you want the generic, your doctor has to specifically write the prescription for it.
But as I mentioned before, even generics can be costly.
According to GoodRx, the cost of the generic Adrenaclick is $379.76, with the discount coupon. Woo.
4. Use a drug assistance program
Mylan, who markets the EpiPen, offers a $100 co-pay discount card for patients WITH insurance. It basically covers the first $100 out-of-pocket cost.
Patients without insurance are encouraged to apply to the Rx Patient Assistance Program. Help is based on financial need; patients with income less than 200% of federal poverty level may be eligible for EpiPens at no cost. (Lots of paperwork involved!)
Taking all this information into account, I’m guessing a 2-pack of generic EpiPens will end up costing me about $300 – $350, just like last time.
For more information, check out the list of online drug price compare tools on my Resources page. These sites offer discount coupons, links to relevant patient-assistance programs and other tips to save money on all prescriptions medications.