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EpiPen price increase: Who’s to blame, according to the media?

by | Aug 30, 2016 | Analysis, Health

Over the last week, we saw a large increase in coverage  of Mylan’s EpiPen price hike (approximately 30 articles for August 1st versus almost 7000 on August 25th) . But as interest swelled, the media also seemed to shift blame for the increase from first the company itself to, after a few days, the wider U.S. health care system.

Headed by CEO Heather Bresch, Mylan Pharmaceuticals is the producer of the commonly known drug administration tool the EpiPen. The tool is the only product currently available that administers epinephrine, a drug used to assist severe allergy sufferers (although a generic version could soon hit markets).

Mylan was recently criticized for upping the cost of the EpiPen by over 400% since 2008. Senators have demanded an investigation into the price hike, and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called the increase “outrageous”.

Bresch herself has also come under heavy criticism: The CEO’s salary has increased by 671% since taking over the company in 2007. Coupled with the rise in price of her product, the optics are not good.

Yet while blame for the hike was first directed at Mylan, major publications have increasingly focused blame elsewhere. The following chart illustrates the amount, by the date of coverage, that Mylan and the wider U.S. health care system were blamed for the price hike:

EpiPen

As shown in the chart earlier coverage focused blame entirely on Mylan, suggesting that the corporation’s actions were the sole cause of the increase. As one Chicago Tribune article reported, “Two senior U.S. senators are examining Mylan’s price increases for the popular EpiPen allergy shot, with one Republican saying the drugmaker’s practices may have limited access to the treatment.”

Mylan continued to be blamed in more recent coverage, but was coupled with more recognition that the health care system itself may have enabled the increase. Particularly on August 24 and 25, more articles focused blame on the wider U.S. health care system.

In an article titled “The EpiPen Controversy Isn’t About Mylan”, The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Pharmaceutical companies are hardly the only health-care players who profit from significant increases in the drug’s list price.”

An article published by Newsday similarly stated: “The EpiPen case underscores the myriad complex issues in our health care landscape, higher insurance deductibles, complicated government regulation, and the difficult terrain to get generic versions of drugs to the market.”

A number of articles from later coverage of the issue also split blame for the increase between Mylan and the U.S. health care system.

In an article by The New York Times, Robert Cyran said that “A complex and opaque system may encourage high prices for drugs, but it does not force the likes of Mylan to jack them up.”

While blame shifted from targeting Mylan to questioning the health care system in general, there were also marked differences in how each outlet represented the issue:

epipen-chart2

Of the top ten outlets analyzed, only The Washington Post concentrated blame solely on Mylan.

USA Today had the most instances of articles splitting blame between Mylan and the Health Care System (10 total), while The Seattle Times had the most instances where blame was focused predominately on U.S. health care system.

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Chantelle Brule
After receiving her Master's in Communications from Carleton University, Chantelle brought her research experience to Agility's Media Insights team as a data analyst. She's particularly good at what she does.

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