The EpiPen, produced by pharmaceutical company Mylan, is an emergency treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions. For the 3.6 million prescribed, the injection device is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have. And according to ABC News, “there appears to be one other company making an epinephrine auto injector available in the U.S.” Add to that a price tag of $608.61 for the doctor-recommended pack of two, and it’s easy to see why consumers, lawmakers and lobbyists are outraged.
Their first attempt at softening the blow was to offer more financial assistance with co-payments for patients with commercial insurance and expand the number of uninsured patients eligible for free EpiPens. But the list price didn’t budge, and most of the critics didn’t, either.
So in their next move to alleviate the outrage, Mylan said on Monday that it would introduce a generic version of the product, with a price about half of the existing EpiPen’s. The company said the generic would be available in several weeks and be identical to the existing product.
As demonstrated over the last two weeks, this story is ever-changing—but based on what we know so far, there are a few solid lessons that pharma marketers can learn from Mylan’s missteps.
Anticipate and Have a Plan
Whether or not their decision is defensible, Mylan chose to significantly raise the price of the EpiPen over the course of eight years. 548%, to be exact. So, how could a company announce another >$100 price increase on a life-saving product without a) an explanation or b) an alternative option?
It took a week of negative press, plummeting shares and vocal politicians to send Mylan scrambling for a solution—and what they came up with still didn’t satisfy critics. Wells Fargo’s David Maris said in a note that Mylan’s moves lack “three important components:” lower prices, relief for families who’ve already bought the EpiPens and “responsibility and contrition.”
The shifting healthcare environment has led to plenty of changes and challenges for life sciences companies. It’s important for pharma marketers to realize that big decisions like the EpiPen price rise can put your brand in a vulnerable position. Marketers need to know their consumers well enough to anticipate reactions to these decisions, and have a proactive plan to ease any sudden shock.
Don’t Circumvent Fault
In a press release issued by Mylan, CEO Heather Bresch made the following statement:
“We recognize the significant burden on patients from continued, rising insurance premiums and being forced increasingly to pay the full list price for medicines at the pharmacy counter. Patients deserve increased price transparency and affordable care, particularly as the system shifts significant costs to them. However, price is only one part of the problem that we are addressing with today’s actions…”
While Bresch’s comments are not untrue, she completely sidesteps the public’s key questions of motivation and intent of Mylan’s price increase strategy. Not only does she exercise avoidance, but she takes the opportunity to shift blame elsewhere. She maintains this position during a sit-down interview with CNBC.
Accountability and transparency demonstrate responsibility. Marketers in the pharmaceutical space are tasked with establishing that responsibility in order to build trust with consumers. Now, this responsibility may not always take form in a national firestorm like Mylan’s EpiPen price increase, but it’s an important reminder to pharma marketers that in scenarios big or small, maintaining transparency and accepting fault will almost always benefit your brand.
Social Listening is Crucial to a Company’s Response
Social media continues to be an amplifier for critics during situations like Mylan’s EpiPen price hike. Celebrities, politicians and parents have been vocal on Twitter and Facebook as a means to voice their frustrations towards Mylan.
Sarah Jessica Parker, a former celebrity advocate for the EpiPen and mother of a child with a life-threatening allergy, announced on Instagram that she will cut all ties with the company. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to weigh in on EpiPen pricing. Author and parent activist Robyn O’Brien referred to the matter as #epigate on her Facebook page. Combined, these statements have received over 65k likes… and counting.
These posts, along with thousands of others, explicitly state what the public is disappointed by, how they intend to react based on that disappointment and what it will take for the company to resolve their disappointment. And while no company wants to face this kind of crisis, easy access to the public’s unfiltered opinion never leaves them guessing where they went wrong or how they can make it right.
While maybe not as substantial as Mylan’s, all companies inevitably make tough decisions that lead to even tougher criticism. Mylan’s decision to continuously increase the price of the EpiPen was not well-received—and the knee-jerk nature of their response wasn’t either. By anticipating the public’s reaction, proactively demonstrating accountability and monitoring feedback, pharma marketers can better maintain the integrity of their company’s brand, even in a moment of crisis.
3 Things Every Pharma Marketer Can Learn from the EpiPen Price Rise