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“Profits Before Patients”: National Drug Shortages Are Threatening Cancer Patients’ Lives

Millions of Americans battling cancer are facing obstacles to recovery that have nothing to do with the disease’s toll on their bodies. According to a new study, national shortages of cancer drugs are threatening the health of the people who rely on them to stay alive.

According to the survey, presented at an oncology conference in Chicago on Monday, about 83 percent of cancer specialists have experienced a drug shortage at their clinics in the past six months. Of those doctors, 92 percent said the shortage had some effect on their patients’ care.

A little over a third of the doctors facing a shortage ended up switching their patients from a cheaper, generic version of that drug to a more expensive brand-name version. Considering the fact that cancer care is already exorbitantly expensive — Americans battling cancer are twice as likely to wind up bankrupt compared to those who don’t have the disease — that could represent a serious strain on those patients.

But cancer patients are facing much more than potential financial hardship. Thanks to the shortages, some cancer specialists can’t find the drugs their patients need at any price. When that happens, doctors are forced to make some painful choices. Nearly 80 percent reported that they switched patients to a different, and potentially less effective, chemotherapy regimen. Some have been forced to give cancers more time to spread further by delaying patients’ treatment or reducing their doses. And 37 percent of the study’s participants even had to choose between their patients, deciding which ones could receive life-saving medication and which ones would have to go without.

William Li, the executive director of a foundation that sponsors research into blood vessel growth, told USA Today that some hospitals are forced to hold lotteries to decide which patients will be able to receive the cancer drugs that are in short supply. “It baffles the mind that this is happening in a modern society,” Li said, pointing out that the FDA should do more to avert drug shortages.

Currently, drug manufacturers can alert the FDA when they suspect an impending shortage, and the federal agency can take steps to try to mitigate the effect on the market, like approving the same kind of drug from a different manufacturer. But so far, that hasn’t been enough to avert the situation. Largely due to manufacturing errors in drug-production facilities across the country, the U.S. faces limited supplies of everything from ADHD medications to painkillers — and cancer patients end up being hit the hardest.

Much of the blame may lie with powerful pharmaceutical companies. One of the co-authors of the new study, Keerthi Gogineni, noted that cancer doctors are concerned drug manufacturers may be prioritizing the most profitable medications over the most life-saving ones. “Some manufacturers have diverted existing production capacity from less profitable agents to more expensive agents,” Gogineni explained. Similarly, a group of over 100 doctors recently criticized Big Pharma for “causing harm to patients” by continuing to sell cancer drugs at unsustainably high prices.

 

By: Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress, June 3, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Big Pharma, Health Care | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney Is Financially Invested In The Birth Control He Seeks To Restrict

Mitt Romney has attacked the Obama administration’s regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide reproductive health care services — including contraception — by arguing that the rule is undermining the religious liberties of Catholics and imposing “a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.” As ThinkProgress has reported, Romney’s newfound sensitivities contradict his record as governor of Massachusetts — where he accepted a very similar contraception equity law — and his previous public commitments to increasing public funding for birth control. In 2005, Romney even asked the Massachusetts Department of Health to issue regulations requiring all hospitals to issue emergency contraception to rape victims, without providing an exception for Catholic hospitals.

Now, an examination of Romney’s financial investments reveals that the very same GOP frontrunner who is now petitioning the White House to extend the regulation’s conscience clause and exclude more women from the benefits of birth control is himself invested in and profiting from pharmaceutical companies that produce the frequently prescribed and extremely common medication:

Romney’s Goldman Sachs 2002 Exchange Place Fund, valued at over a million dollars in 2010, brought in nearly $600,000 in gains in 2010 and is invested in:

– Watson Pharmaceuticals: manufacturer of nine forms of emergency contraception (which Romney incorrectly identifies as “abortifacients“). – Johnson & Johnson: launched the first U.S. prescription birth control product in 1931 and produces various forms of birth control. – Merck: produces various forms of birth control – Mylan: produces birth control medication and filed the first application for a generic birth control pill last year. – Pfizer: a contraception producer that recently had to recall about a million packs of birth-control pills that weren’t packaged correctly.

Romney often disclaims any responsibility for or knowledge of his own investments by claiming that they are held in a private trust. But since filing his legally-required public financial disclosure reports and certifying that the information is “true, complete, and correct” to the best of his knowledge, the trust ceased to be a “blind trust” as he knew what was in it. Romney signed such disclosure forms last August and during his unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid in August 2007.

 

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Birth Control, Womens Rights | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pay-For-Delay”: Ending Drug Companies’ Deals

An upcoming report by the Federal Trade Commission shows that brand-name pharmaceutical makers continue to cut questionable deals with generic manufacturers that delay the introduction of cheaper drugs onto the market.

Such pay-for-delay arrangements hurt consumers and increase costs for federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by the editorial board. These deals are not illegal, but they should be.

Pharmaceutical companies rightly enjoy strong protections for products that often take years and billions of dollars to develop. These protections were so strong at one point that they discouraged would-be competitors from jumping in. The Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984 meant to address this problem by allowing generics to market “bio-equivalent” drugs as long as they did not infringe on the brand-name drug’s patent; the generic could also proceed if it proved the brand-name patent was invalid. The goal was to enhance competition and lower drug prices. That goal is thwarted when brand-name manufacturers engage in the popular practice of paying generic-drug makers to keep their products off the market.

In 2004, the FTC did not identify a single settlement in a patent litigation matter involving drug makers that raised pay-for-delay concerns. In its new report, the agency points to 28 cases that bear the telltale signs of pay-for-delay, including “compensation to the generic manufacturer and a restriction on the generic manufacturer’s ability to market its product.”

Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) have introduced the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act to close the pay-for-delay loophole. The bill would make such schemes presumptively illegal and empower the FTC to challenge suspicious arrangements in federal court. The most recent version gives companies a chance to preserve certain deals if “clear and convincing evidence” proves that their “pro-competitive benefits outweigh the anti-competitive harms.” The Obama administration estimates that eliminating pay-for-delay could save the government $8.8 billion over 10 years; the Congressional Budget Office offers a dramatically more conservative savings estimate of roughly $3 billion over the same period.

The legislation should appeal to the deficit-reduction “supercommittee,” which has been tasked with identifying ways to cut the federal deficit.

By: Editorial Board Opinion, The Washington Post, October 24, 2011

October 26, 2011 Posted by | Big Pharma, Congress, Consumers, Government, Health Care Costs | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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