More On Why There Are Drug Shortages

See our previous posts here and here. This is Zeke Emanuel, writing in the New York Times:

The Problem:

Right now cancer care is being rationed in the United States… [T]his rationing … is caused by a severe shortage of important cancer drugs.

Of the 34 generic cancer drugs on the market, as of this month, 14 were in short supply. They include drugs that are the mainstay of treatment regimens used to cure leukemia, lymphoma and testicular cancer.

The Cause:

The [2008 Medicare law] had an unintended consequence. In the first two or three years after a cancer drug goes generic, its price can drop by as much as 90 percent as manufacturers compete for market share. But if a shortage develops, the drug’s price should be able to increase again to attract more manufacturers. Because the 2003 act effectively limits drug price increases, it prevents this from happening. The low profit margins mean that manufacturers face a hard choice: lose money producing a lifesaving drug or switch limited production capacity to a more lucrative drug.

The result is clear: in 2004 there were 58 new drug shortages, but by 2010 the number had steadily increased to 211.

The Solution:

A more radical approach would be to take Medicare out of the generic cancer drug business entirely. Once a drug becomes generic, Medicare should stop paying, and it should be covered by a private pharmacy plan. That way prices can better reflect the market, and market incentives can work to prevent shortages.

Megan McArdle also weighs in here.

Comments (5)

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  1. Joe S. says:

    Good post. I think this is a very serious issue.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    The most important thing Zeke Emanuel said in his article is the shortage problem is a lack of profitability. The solution requires increasing the profit potential to entice firms to manufacture the drugs in short supply. He strengthens his point by saying injectable oncology drugs are only about $400 million of Medicare’s budget. Boosting what Medicare pays for them is a drop in the bucket.

  3. Bruce says:

    Price controls cause shortages. That’s a no-brainer.

  4. Carolyn Needham says:

    The rationing that the left denies will occur is already happening.

  5. Nancy says:

    I agree with Carolyn.