Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee, is demanding that secondary drug distributors
reveal how they are obtaining scarce, lifesaving medicines and explain
the often-exorbitant prices that are currently charging hospitals.
Growing drug shortages are responsible for at least 15 patient deaths.
The shortages also have forced hospitals to give less-effective treatments,
delayed surgeries and cancer treatments, and left patients in unnecessary
pain. Meanwhile, secondary distributors are selling drugs for chemotherapy,
anesthesia, and infections for hugely inflated prices, in some cases up
to 80 times the normal price.
In an effort to address the drug shortages, Cummings sent letters to five
distributors—companies hospitals say have been offering them hard-to-find
drugs at dramatic markups—and given them two weeks to answer his
questions. The questions cover where the distributors are buying these
drugs, what their profit is, and how much their executives are being paid.
The letters cite a specific drug allegedly marketed to hospitals by each
distributor and the price charged to hospitals, such as the cancer drug
cytarabine. It normally sells for about $12 per vial but was allegedly
offered by Allied Medical Supply Inc. of Miami for more than $990 per vial.
“For people to be taking advantage under these circumstances, it
ought to be criminal,” Cummings told the AP.
There is no federal law against price gouging on medicine. Cummings said
he’s trying to learn as much as possible about the causes of the
drug shortages and the high prices. He said his staff has found that big
markups mainly are for “life-or-death drugs.”
Hospitals and pharmacists say they suspect brokers have been cornering
the market on scarce drugs and driving up prices to make a big profit.
“The idea that people would be charging these kind of prices, taking
advantage of people in vulnerable positions and driving up our health
care costs, should be a concern to all of us,” Cummings said.
He’s set up an Internet tip site for anyone with information about
price gouging on drugs in short supply.