“Being able to afford EpiPens is a matter of life and death,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser and Dr. Mark Kenton of Mercy Medical Center testified before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in support of Sen. Lesser’s bill to create an EpiPen bulk purchase program that would dramatically reduce the cost of EpiPens in Massachusetts.

The proposal was based off the successful Narcan bulk purchase program, which was created by the Senate in 2015 and is administered by the Office of the Attorney General.

That program allows cities and towns to pool their resources to buy doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in bulk, reducing the price.

In the first half of 2016, the Narcan bulk purchase program was responsible for saving 1,500 lives according to a report from the Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner.

The goal of this bill is to replicate that success with EpiPens, which have been prescribed to about 10,000 schoolchildren in Massachusetts as of 2012, the last year for which data are readily available.

“This program would result in significant public health benefits and have the potential to reduce health care costs through increased purchase capacity,” said Sen. Lesser. “Being able to afford EpiPens is a matter of life and death.”

The EpiPen bulk purchase program would allow cities and towns to pay into a trust fund that could then be used to buy EpiPens in bulk directly from the manufacturer, reducing the price. The cities and towns could then allocate the EpiPens to schools and first responders.

Dr. Kenton, whose open letter on Facebook to the CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen, went viral last year, testified alongside Sen. Lesser.

In a demonstration, he showed how much quicker and more efficient EpiPens are to the older method of delivering epinephrine to a patient, using a needle to draw the medicine out of a bottle.

“44 seconds versus five seconds. That difference in time is the time that a child’s airway swells…that the airway closes. That difference in time is the time that a child goes to respiratory arrest and then goes to cardiac arrest. That difference in time is the time that I may have to tell a parent that their child died,” Dr. Kenton said.

Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, acquired the decades-old product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for a two-pen set, and has since been steadily raising the wholesale price.

In 2009, a pharmacy paid $103.50 for a set. By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.

“It’s important to note that Mylan did not invent the EpiPen; it bought the marketing rights to sell the solution to this critical health issue,” said Sen. Lesser.

Last week, the state House and Senate voted to approve a $40.2 billion budget that includes Sen. Lesser’s proposal to create a bulk purchase program for EpiPens.

Governor Charlie Baker has until July 17 to review and sign the budget and issue any line-item vetoes.

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