Finding Out Your Kid Needs An EpiPen Is Scary. Realizing You Can't Afford It Is Terrifying

by Billy Kilgore
Originally Published: 
epipen cost
AFP / Stringer

My toddler son sniffled and wrestled off the padded table. He was relieved to be done with the test, and we were relieved to get the results. After looking at the grid marked on his back, the nurse informed us egg was the offender, causing his skin to rise into red hives.

“He will need an EpiPen,” she said.

Say what? I turned and looked at my wife with furrowed brows.

“An EpiPen is warranted?” I asked.

“Yes, it is,” she politely nodded.

It didn’t seem right. Overkill. Not necessary for my child. He just threw up some eggs. Can’t we just avoid them and take allergy meds and call it even? No need for an EpiPen. I can barely brush his teeth, much less stick a needle in his thigh.

The doctor entered the room in her white coat. She explained that two of my son’s systems reacted, skin and digestive, so protocol called for an EpiPen. My wife agreed. I chilled out. But it still seemed a bit much. An EpiPen? The needle you use when someone can’t breathe or is in anaphylactic shock. My son doesn’t need an EpiPen. He’s fine.

I’m the guy who made fun of my sister for having a peanut butter allergy in the ’90s. You know, before they got all serious about peanut butter allergies and confirmed that it was a real thing. I thought she was faking it, trying to get attention. Yeah, I know, that was a jerk move.

After we got home, my wife called in the prescription. I researched children’s allergies thinking I would prove the doctor was overreacting. Translation: I am really stubborn. Turns out, anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) is no joke even at a low level like vomiting and hives. It can move rapidly and holds the potential to lower blood pressure and restrict breathing. Something as simple as a bee sting or an egg or a latex glove can trigger it.

Discovering your child needs an EpiPen is scary. But here is the kicker: The cost is scarier. The doctor warned us to brace ourselves and told us parents reported prices in excess of $500. What the?! After a bit of research, I saw, firsthand, the absurd prices. Also, we learned the EpiPen has increased in cost over 400% since 2008.

That’s right — 400%.

So, how could an EpiPen, which contains epinephrine, cost hundreds of dollars? Epinephrine is an old, established drug, a drug on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicine for children. I don’t have a well-researched answer. I’m not a doctor, nor am I a pharmacist, and I know nothing about pharmaceutical sales. But I do know it makes no sense for this life-saving device to cost this much money. Seriously, it’s a needle attached to a plastic injector that holds a decades-old drug. I hope you are as puzzled as I am because my head is spinning.

It’s hard not to point a finger at the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture the EpiPen. It’s one thing to overcharge a person for a car or computer or couch, but don’t swindle people for life-saving medicine. Don’t create a financial burden that excludes children from the care they need to survive. Come on. You don’t need to take an ethics class to know this is very wrong. Really, 400%?

Fortunately, my wife and I have solid heath insurance that minimized the price we paid. Now we are managing the reality of handling an EpiPen. We had the conversation with the day care. We have one stashed in the diaper bag. We’ve gotten out the tester pen so our son can play with it.

In the near future, we are doing a food test with our toddler son to determine if he can eat a cooked egg. Our doctor has urged us to start now and work with the allergy, so he will hopefully grow out of it. My fingers are crossed. I really don’t want him to miss out on omelets. (And I really really don’t want him to have a potentially life-threatening allergy.)

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