The federal Medicare program and private health insurers waste nearly $3 billion every year buying cancer medicines that are thrown out because many drug makers distribute the drugs only in vials that hold too much for most patients, a group of cancer researchers has found.We could, of course, use the power of the government to prevent this, but that would be un-American, wouldn't it?
The expensive drugs are usually injected by nurses working in doctors’ offices and hospitals who carefully measure the amount needed for a particular patient and then, because of safety concerns, discard the rest.
If drug makers distributed vials containing smaller quantities, nurses could pick the right volume for a patient and minimize waste. Instead, many drug makers exclusively sell one-size-fits-all vials, ensuring that many smaller patients pay thousands of dollars for medicine they are never given, according to researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who published a study on Tuesday in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal....
“Drug companies are quietly making billions forcing little old ladies to buy enough medicine to treat football players, and regulators have completely missed it,” said Dr. Peter B. Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering and a co-author of the study. “If we’re ever going to start saving money in health care, this is an obvious place to cut.”
... In one example, the study said that in the United States Takeda Pharmaceuticals sells Velcade, a drug for the treatment of multiple myeloma and lymphoma, only in 3.5-milligram vials that sell for $1,034 and hold enough medicine to treat a person who is 6 feet 6 inches tall and who weighs 250 pounds. If a patient is smaller, then a quantity of the precious powder is thrown away.
Some of these medicines are distributed in smaller vial sizes in Europe, where governments play a more active role than the United States does in drug pricing and distribution....Do you loathe Martin Shkreli? This is Shkreli Lite. It's not a flamboyantly evil SOB jacking up the basic price of a drug -- it's faceless suits using a sleazy trick to squeeze more money out of a drug without appearing to raise the price. Sick and dying patients still get screwed.
Christopher Kelly, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, said the agency objected to companies’ proposed vial sizes only if it believed that an excessively large volume of medicine “could lead to medication errors or safety issues due to inappropriate multiple dosing.”
... Congress has not given the drug agency the authority to consider cost in its decisions.
We don't have the national will to stop this sort of thing. Even if we were to elect Bernie Sanders, we'd need a Congress (and probably a Supreme Court) very different from the current ones in order to curtail abuses like this. We're not ready for the all-out war we'd need to fight. And so they're going to keep doing this sort of thing to us.