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[WASHINGTON] The embattled manufacturer of EpiPens said Thursday it would help extreme allergy sufferers meet the costs of the life-saving devices after a five-fold price hike sparked outrage.
Mylan NV, which holds a near-monopoly on the manufacture of the epinephrine injectors, said it would expand existing programs to defray out-of-pocket costs but did not say it would lower prices.
After a series of price hikes, a pack of two of the devices sells for more than US$600, compared to less than US$100 in 2007, when Mylan bought the rights to the technology.
Allergy sufferers use the devices for the immediate treatment of life-threatening anaphylactic shocks arising from allergies.
"We have been a long-term, committed partner to the allergy community and are taking immediate action to help ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen Auto-Injector gets one," Mylan chief executive Heather Bresch said in a statement.
The controversy made the company the latest healthcare-related firm to face angry public allegations of price-gouging the sick and vulnerable.
The American Medical Association on Wednesday called the EpiPen price "exorbitant".
It also thrust Mylan into the pending US political contest, with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Wednesday insisting that the company drop prices and calling the most recent price hike "outrageous" as it occurred just as allergic children prepared to return to school.
In a letter released to the public, a bi-partisan group of five US senators on Wednesday asked the Food and Drug Administration about its approval process for alternatives to the EpiPen, which could push the price down for patients and insurers.
In its statement on Thursday, Mylan said it would double eligibility for patient assistance to EpiPen users, eliminating immediate out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured and under-insured.
It also said patients would be able to use a savings card to cover up to US$300 of cost of the two-pack of EpiPens.
A family of four with an annual income of up to US$97,200 would pay nothing out of pocket for an injector, the company said. It also blamed insurance companies for requiring patients to pay an increasing share of the costs for medications.
Mylan said it had distributed more than 700,000 EpiPens to 65,000 schools in the United States.
Reacting to the Mylan statement, US Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, said the company's gestures did not go far enough and that he still expected to receive a reply to questions he put to the company earlier in the week.
"The announcement today doesn't appear to change the product price. The price is what Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies pay.
It's what patients who don't get assistance cards pay," Mr Grassley said in a statement.
"And when drug companies offer patient assistance cards, it's usually not clear how many patients benefit."
Appearing on CNBC early Thursday, Ms Bresch, herself the daughter of a US Senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, said prices had fallen on 600 Mylan products, but that commercial pressures drive the company's pricing decisions.
"I'm running a business," she said.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader also appeared on the network, accusing the company of gouging the sick and exhibiting "greed on steroids".
Shares in Mylan were up 0.2 per cent at US$43.26 around midday, after having lost nearly 11 per cent over two sessions after the furore broke out over EpiPen.