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Amid EpiPen shortage, Walgreens teams up with drug company that offers an alternative

Amid EpiPen shortage, Walgreens teams up with drug company that offers an alternative
The Auvi-Q epinephrine auto-injector, which will be stocked at Walgreens stores nationwide, has a wholesale price of $4,900 for a two-pack but will be free to most consumers because its manufacturer will cover any out-of-pocket costs for people with private insurance. (Alexandra Kukulka / Chicago Tribune)

Amid a shortage of EpiPens, pharmacy chain Walgreens is teaming up with a drugmaker that makes a competing allergy injection.

The Auvi-Q — a device used to inject epinephrine to counter severe allergic reactions — is available for the first time at Walgreens stores nationwide. Before, people seeking Auvi-Qs mostly got them through the mail.

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A two-pack of the devices, made by drugmaker Kaleo, has a wholesale price of $4,900, according to Elsevier’s Gold Standard Drug Database, but the devices will be free to most consumers. Kaleo is to cover any out-of-pocket costs for people with private insurance, regardless of whether the insurer agrees to cover the medication.

If a customer’s insurer agrees to cover Auvi-Q, the person can get it at Walgreens, and Kaleo will cover any deductible or copay costs. If the insurer doesn’t cover it, Walgreens will reach out to Kaleo’s hub of specialty pharmacies, which will mail the Auvi-Q to the customer’s home, Kaleo Chief Executive Spencer Williamson said.

The list price of Auvi-Q is much higher than that of drugmaker Mylan’s EpiPen, which can cost as much as $600 for a two-pack, according to Elsevier.

Williamson said Kaleo set the Auvi-Q’s price where it did because many large insurers refused to cover it at the same level as other similar products when the company reintroduced the device in 2017. Kaleo had to set the price at a certain level so it could give the auto-injectors for free to the many consumers whose insurance plans wouldn’t cover it, he said.

Michael Carrier, a professor at Rutgers University Law School, called it a particularly aggressive strategy for getting a product into patients’ hands.

“It shows how our healthcare system is broken, the fact that some entities are paying $5,000 and some are getting it for free,” Carrier said.

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