PhotoHigh drug prices may not be a partisan issue. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have joined their Democratic colleagues in asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate drug maker Mylan.

Mylan, you will recall, is the pharmaceutical firm that produces the EpiPen, a device that dispenses a life-saving antidote to allergic shock. The company became a focus of a political storm over the summer when it raised the price of the product to around $600, even though it was essentially the same product that it had been selling for nearly a decade.

On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-WI) asked the FTC to review Mylan Pharmaceuticals’ business practices involving EpiPens for possible antitrust behavior. The lawmakers made the request in response to published reports that the company attempted to prevent schools from purchasing a competing product.

Since children are often subject to life-threatening allergic reactions, many schools keep the antidote on hand in the event of such emergencies.

A shared priority

“Increasing patient access to safe, effective and affordable medications has long been a shared priority of ours,” the lawmakers from opposing parties wrote in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “We also share a strong belief that potential anti-competitive actions by drug industry participants must be aggressively investigated because of their impact on competition and drug costs.”

When the issue of EpiPen pricing broke into the headlines in August, the federal government quickly took note, since Medicare and Medicaid spent a lot of money on the product. Was the government being overcharged, the Justice Department wanted to know?

Mylan responded to the public pressure by introducing a discount program for low and middle income patients, but refused to budge from its price for the EpiPen.

Speedy settlement

When the Justice Department began asking questions, Mylan offered to settle, agreeing to pay a $465 million dollar fine to settle charges it had misclassified the drug as a generic. But the company did not admit to any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.

Meanwhile, a number of states, led by Minnesota, are conducting their own investigation into EpiPen pricing to determine whether state Medicaid and other aid programs were overcharged.

In calling for the antitrust probe, Grassley and Leahy said the FTC plays a critical role in protecting consumers from anti-competitive behavior, especially by pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing to looking into the recent Mylan settlement with the Justice Department.

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