You have to wonder if Mylan NV (NASDAQ:MYL) saw the writing on the wall two weeks ago.
During its second-quarter earnings call back on Aug. 10, CEO Heather Bresch commented, “As we continue to grow, just as now we’re bringing Meda into the fold, EpiPen from a true dollar contribution will just continue to shrink. So again, there’s no over-reliance on EpiPen as a brand.”
A week later, the company was slammed rather harshly (though understandably) when someone crunched the numbers. The price of the very same EpiPen that Mylan is looking to become less reliant on had grown 400% between 2008 and now, becoming unaffordable for most families. Many insurance plans don’t help cover much of the cost anymore. Some had resorted to driving to Canada to buy the same EpiPen for about a third of the U.S. price.
Then this Monday, the issue was taken to the next level — a level Mylan stock holders didn’t want to get to. The U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, directly asked Bresch for an explanation of the steep price hike. After all, little had changed about the EpiPen since MYL acquired the auto-injecting allergic-reaction treatment device and drug in 2007.
When a Senate committee starts asking questions, it’s already too late.
All Too Familiar
If the whole thing seems strangely familiar, it may be because we’ve seen this before — recently, and more than once. This is the kind of practice Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was talking about back on Sept. 21, 2015, when she tweeted:
“Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I’ll lay out a plan to take it on.”
She was responding to a New York Times article highlighting an inexplicable 5,000% price hike for a 50-year-old drug that had been acquired by a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals. However, no specialty pharma that had driven wild drug price increases was safe from scrutiny. Just ask former Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc (NYSE:VRX) CEO Michael Pearson, who had to appear before a different Senate committee in April to explain why a couple of its recently acquired drugs had seen triple-digit price increases once brought under the Valeant umbrella.
Like former Turing CEO Martin Shkreli when he was asked similar questions by a Congressional committee in February, Pearson had responses. But one would be hard-pressed to call them actual answers.
So far, Mylan hasn’t done much better, deflecting rather than answering. It officially said on the matter:
“With changes in the healthcare insurance landscape, an increasing number of people and families are enrolled in high deductible health plans, and deductible amounts continue to rise. This shift has presented new challenges for consumers, and they are bearing more of the cost.”
“(Prices have) changed over time to better reflect important product features and the value the product provides. We’ve made a significant investment to support the device over the past years.”
Mylan’s response calls into question its interpretation of the terms “important product features” and “significant investment.” Many in the industry haven’t seen any significant changes to the EpiPen since it was acquired in 2007. Moreover, explaining the fact that the burden has been moved from the insurer to the patient still doesn’t answer the question of why the device costs so much more than it did before.
Bottom Line for Mylan Stock
Calling a spade a spade (because Mylan could never acknowledge it publicly), the EpiPen’s price soared primarily for one reason. MYL enjoys a 90% market share on what is for some a life-saving must-have.
In other words, Mylan jacked the price up because it can.
That in itself isn’t inherently distasteful, though Mylan arguably took it too far. The argument that it’s a business and not a charity does hold water. But at some point, a corporate conscience has to kick in. It didn’t seem to in this case.
What should be of concern to current and would-be owners of Mylan stock is that the company saw what happened to Turing and Shkreli, saw what happened to Valeant and Pearson, then chose to take no action whatsoever regarding its pricing policy. Even a modest, token drop in the price of the EpiPen would have been a big gesture of good faith.
The end result? Not only has Mylan damaged its reputation, it has attracted the scrutiny of the Federal government. That could lead to (of all things) an antitrust accusation. Mylan may have used excess profits on the device to ensure it remained an exclusive choice, if not through incentives, then through outright marketing firepower.
It’s unlikely any of the accusations have much in the way of legal teeth. But Mylan just positioned itself as another poster child of everything that’s wrong with the pharmaceutical industry.
It wasn’t worth it.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.