3.28.2014

How Capitalism is Failing Health Care

This week the New York Times reported that Nitroglycerin is in short supply.

Nitro is what you take when you are having a heart attack. That's how serious this is getting. Other drugs impacted by drug shortages in the US include morphine, cancer medications just about everything we've used in the hospital -- including normal saline!

Baxter is the only supplier now. Despite the fact that this is a life saving medication used in critical care, it is not a big profit maker.

That's the basis for the drug shortages. Factories are getting old and drug companies - despite huge bankrolls and profits -- don't want to invest in factories that aren't producing high-profit drugs.

It's just another example at how the free market fails when it comes to healthcare. The medications we need most are not always the medications that turn the biggest profit. Moreover, drug shortages are getting worse, according to the most recent GAO report:
The number of drug shortages remains high. Although reports of new drug shortages declined in 2012, the total number of shortages active during a given year—including both new shortages reported and ongoing shortages that began in a prior year—has increased since 2007. Many shortages are of generic sterile injectable drugs. Provider association representatives reported that drug shortages may force providers to ration care or rely on less effective drugs.

As expected, those of us who working health care are flabbergasted. As the NYT noted:
Several doctors said they found the unpredictability of the shortages frustrating. “You want to feel that we’re living in a land where if you come into the hospital with a heart attack, that you can get the best of care,” said Dr. Ann Toran, chief of cardiac surgery at North Shore Medical Center, a hospital in Salem, Mass., whose pharmacy is down to a small supply of nitroglycerin. “To have that hanging over you as a doctor — a critical shortage of this essential medication — I just don’t know what to say.”

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