CVS Throws Us a Life Preserver


Several months ago, I wrote a post called EpiPens Are for Moms, Too. It was edited and republished by The Mighty (with my permission), because I felt that the information I’d gleaned from my experience trying to buy a EpiPen from a pharmacy was important enough to share with as many people as possible. This week, I have news about this experience that is even more important to share.

Some background: I have a severe, life-threatening allergy to seafood. I’ve reacted with equal intensity to shellfish and regular fish, and that reaction is terrifying. My mouth begins to itch — an early warning sign — and soon afterward, I begin to feel my throat go numb. Once that sensation begins, I know that I have precious few moments before I will begin to have trouble breathing. That’s my cue to get help quickly.

To avoid dying from the accidental ingestion of seafood, I carry an EpiPen. EpiPens are epinephrine auto-injectors meant temporarily to arrest a severe allergic reaction quickly so that the allergic person can get to a hospital. The term “EpiPen” is actually owned by a company called Mylan, which owns the rights to that particular model of epinephrine auto-injector and, this past fall, came under intense public anger for raising the price of these life-saving devices exponentially. You can read more about this price hike and the history of the EpiPen brand on Timeline.

After the frightening allergic reaction I had to fish oil in a chewable Vitamin C tablet in late 2015, which I wrote about in my original post, I went to my allergist for a refill of my prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector. Though I was careful to get a prescription that would allow me to choose a cheaper, generic auto-injector instead of the Mylan brand EpiPen, I had a very hard time getting the pharmacy to fill the prescription for me. I wrote in September about how the pharmacist first gave me the Mylan brand without asking, charging me $280, then hemmed and hawed about the existence of a generic, then claimed my doctor wouldn’t prescribe a generic and, finally, after I stood my ground, suddenly remembered a coupon from Mylan’s web site that would allow me to get the name brand for free.

It was a maddening experience to have all alone in a pharmacy with no one but myself to keep in check. If I’d had several children with me, I can only imagine that my patience for waiting might have given out long before the pharmacist “remembered” the Mylan coupon.

Yesterday, though, something interesting happened.

Yesterday, I received an email from a PR representative at CVS Pharmacy’s corporate offices. She had read my blog post and wanted to ask me to share some news from CVS about something they’re doing to resolve this problem. You can read their official release here, but some highlights include:

“We recognized the urgent need for a less-expensive epinephrine auto-injector, and are proud to offer a low-cost option at all CVS Pharmacy locations. Patients can now purchase the authorized generic for Adrenaclick® at a cash price of $109.99 for a two-pack – the lowest cash price in the market. This authorized generic is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved device with the same active ingredient as other epinephrine auto-injector devices.” (emphasis mine)

For those who are doing the math:

  • Without insurance, the Mylan brand EpiPen costs $600 for two auto-injectors.
  • With my excellent employer-sponsored insurance, the Mylan brand EpiPen would cost $280 for two auto-injectors, unless Mylan offers a coupon and you either know about the coupon or the pharmacist bothers to tell you about the coupon.
  • The generic AdrenaClick® autoinjector will cost $109.99 for a two-pack.

When the PR representative from CVS wrote to me (she asked not to be mentioned by name), my immediate response was to ask if there would be any internal PR about their new plan. After all, Mylan coupons were not suggested to me until I’d pushed hard for the generic. The CVS representative wrote back to me right away. She said, in part:

“… all pharmacists at CVS Pharmacy have been educated on the new epinephrine auto-injector option and are able to discuss with customers how medication costs are affected under various health insurance and discount plans that CVS Pharmacy accepts.”

Now here’s the most impressive part of this story, for me. I deliberately did not include the name of the pharmacy in my first post on this topic. I didn’t want to risk legal action or make assumptions about the way the pharmacy chain had educated its employees — after all, maybe I just got a pharmacist who forgot about the coupon or was new to the pharmacy or was having a bad day. However, this email from CVS and, in particular, the response I got from the PR representative, reveal a corporation which has thought carefully about how to serve vulnerable food-allergic patients and their families. It reveals a corporation with a real heart.

The pharmacy where I had the experience I describe in EpiPens Are for Moms, Too? It was a CVS. And it looks like the experience I had might never happen again.

If you are a food-allergic person or the parent of one, please go to a CVS and ask about filling your epinephrine auto-injector prescription. Write back to me here and let me know how it went. If it goes the way it looks like it should, based on what I learned this week, let’s fill the web with great stories. Let’s fill Facebook and Twitter with this news. Let’s give CVS as much good press as we can. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

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