Colorado could limit EpiPen costs under new bill

An aggressive marketing campaign has made the EpiPen the go-to drug for treating anaphylaxis.

Democratic lawmakers want to limit the costs paid by Coloradans for epinephrine autoinjectors, often known as EpiPens, the lifesaving devices that can stop a deadly allergic reaction.

A bill introduced on the first day of the legislative session would allow uninsured people to buy the auto-injectors for no more than $60 per two-pack. Similarly, it would also cap out-of-pocket costs for insured people at $60 per two-pack.

It’s a response, the sponsors said, to a sharp increase in the retail cost of the products. The manufacturer of the EpiPen raised costs from $60 in 2007 to more than $600 in 2016. Generic versions are available for about half that price.

Many people are able to get auto-injectors for free or at low cost through insurance, but others are left to pay the full price.

“The cost of producing it has remained the same, so Coloradans shouldn't be subject to that sort of price gouging,” said Rep. Javier Mabrey, a newly elected Democratic lawmaker from Denver.

The bill, HB 23-1002, would work in two different ways. Starting in 2024, a new program would launch to provide the pens for Coloradans without insurance. Pharmacies would have to sell auto-injectors to qualified people at a lower cost. If the pharmacy is forced to sell the device at a loss due to high wholesale costs, it could then be reimbursed by the manufacturer.

At the same time, insurance companies would have to limit consumers’ costs for prescription auto-injectors, assuming the carrier covers the devices.

Amanda Massey, executive director of Colorado Association of Health Plans, an industry group, warned of hidden costs.

"CAHP has not yet taken a position on the bill, but we caution that copay caps do not impact the actual price of any drug. Coloradans deserve access to affordable, life-saving medications and this bill only hides the outrageous prices set by Big Pharma and forces all Coloradans to pay for it through increased health insurance premiums,” she wrote in an email.

The bill represents a continued press by Democrats to lower medical costs by putting new regulations on health care companies. The state became the first to enact widespread limits on insulin prices in recent years.

A New Hampshire law requires insurance coverage for auto-injectors. An EpiPen insurance bill in New Jersey did not pass last year.

Representatives for EpiPen manufacturer Viatris did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last year Viatris settled a class action lawsuit over anticompetitive practices for $264 million.

The Colorado bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Dylan Roberts and Rep. Iman Jodeh, both Democrats.