Lawmakers slam EpiPen maker for rising prices, as CEO downplays profits

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Despite public outcry and sharp questions from lawmakers, the head of Mylan Inc. - the maker of the EpiPen - defended her company’s massive price hike for the life-saving allergy medication by claiming it offers rebates and discounts to customers.

"Price and access exist in a balance, and we believe we have struck that balance," CEO Heather Bresch said in her opening statement before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday.

The price of EpiPens has grown to $608 for a two-pack, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2007.

Bresch downplayed the profits and said the company only makes about $100 on each two-pack of the auto-injectors it sells for $608.

"The misconception about our profits is understandable, and at least partly due to the complex environment in which pharmaceutical prices are determined," Bresch said. "The pricing of a pharmaceutical product is opaque and frustrating, especially for patients."

House Oversight chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said families struggling to pay for the emergency allergy shots had the right to be outraged by the “rapid rise” in cost from a company whose sales are in excess of $11 billion.

The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, also blasted Mylan -- accusing the company of raising prices “to get filthy rich at the expense of our constituents.”

Bresch, who sat emotionless while lawmakers condemned Mylan and other big pharma companies for engaging in greedy business practices, said she wishes Mylan had “better anticipated the magnitude and acceleration” of the rising prices for some families.

"We never intended this," she said.

Bresch said the company has made strides to more widely distribute the drug to schools and others.

EpiPens are used in emergencies to stop anaphylaxis, the potentially fatal allergic reactions to insect bites and stings and foods like nuts and eggs. People usually keep multiple EpiPens handy at home, school or work, but the syringes, prefilled with the hormone epinephrine, expire after a year.

"We don't want to go back to a time -- not that long ago -- when awareness of anaphylaxis was much lower and epinephrine auto injectors were only available in schools with a prescription for an individual child," she said. "Achieving this level of expansion of awareness requires significant investment."

Bresch has some familiarity with Capitol Hill -- she is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. But lawmakers so far haven't cut her any slack because she is related to a colleague. Several other committees also have called for investigations into the matter.

Bresch said the company has “confronted the EpiPen issue head on” by announcing “the first ever generic version of the EpiPen product, which will be priced at $300.”

“This unprecedented move is the fastest and most direct way to reduce the price for all patients,” she said.

Bresch also said the company is creating a direct ship option which will allow customers to purchase the generic product directly from Mylan for $300. She added Mylan also doubled the eligibility of patients receiving free pens from $48,600 to $97,200 for a family of four.

Critics have said the coupons, discount cards and patient assistance programs aren't real solutions because many customers won't use them or won't qualify for them.

In the Senate, leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' investigations subcommittee said earlier this month that they have begun an inquiry into the company's pricing and competition practices. The Senate Aging Committee requested briefings on the issue, and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has written several letters to Mylan demanding answers.

Fox News' Rich Edson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.