August 18: Senator Bernie Sanders tweets out an NBC news story reporting a 400% increase in the cost of EpiPen over seven years amid stirrings of discontent against the life-saving allergy drug’s manufacturer, Mylan.
August 22: The New York Times picks up the Mylan story.
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) write open letters to Mylan. Earlier, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), whose daughter relies on an EpiPen, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee and FTC to investigate the price hikes.
August 24: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton turns her ire on the company with a lengthy Facebook post, calling the price hikes “outrageous” and “without apparent justification.”
It turns out Congress is in an awkward bind: Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is daughter of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Bresch may be called to appear before D.C. lawmakers to testify and explain EpiPen’s surging prices.
Some members of Congress ask why the company spent about $4 million to lobby for a bill that incentivized schools to provide EpiPens and resulted in a 22.5% increase in profit.
Meanwhile, Mylan’s stock tumbles 6.2 percent.
August 25: Bresch flails during a CNBC Squawk Box interview as she attempts to justify her company’s actions while fending off criticism that its effective monopoly was abusing its power. She blames the price hikes on the failings of the healthcare system.
Her exclamation that “No one’s more frustrated than me” metastasizes into a BP-style sound bite that blankets the media.
Her interview is timed with an announcement from Mylan it will increase its maximum co-pay assistance program from $100 to $300. The company also tries to explain how payment for the EpiPen breaks down.
But the Clinton presidential campaign says the rebate is not enough, as steep prices for EpiPens will be “passed on through higher insurance premiums.”
Former Sex and the City star and EpiPen ambassador Sarah Jessica Parker cuts ties with Mylan.
August 31: CNN Money digs into Mylan’s financials and discovers a 2014 bonus plan that means Bresch and other execs could score a huge bonus if the company meets its profit and share goals.
September 6: New York Attorney Eric Schneiderman announces his office is investigating Mylan for breaking antitrust laws by “insert[ing] potentially anticompetitive terms” into sales contracts with local schools. Subpoenas for company information were issued the week prior.
Mylan’s EpiPen4Schools program offers discounts to schools who either willingly or are required by law to participate. In 2012-2013, Mylan funneled $4 million into lobbying efforts for EpiPens, including the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. More than 65,000 schools participated.
HIT OR MISS?
Miss. Bresch and Mylan could have mapped out a better comms strategy to court public favor, despite being in a situation with massive legal implications that restricts alternatives.
Lesson 1: Never make corporate problems the center of attention. To a consumer that depends on your life-saving drug, the frustrations of your CEO and stakeholders can wait.
Lesson 2: Bresch is no pharma bro, but she’s the face of a big healthcare enterprise. Pushing blame onto the healthcare system deepened suspicions Bresch was part of the problem. Consumers want “mea culpa,” not “why me?”
This story was first published by PRWeek.