It turns out that all those discount prescriptions, mandated and regulated by the government, may be causing a national shortage of some of the most vital drugs.
In a motion passed by the American Medical Association, the country’s top lobbyist group of medical practitioners, it was declared that doctors and hospitals are facing a shortage of life-saving medical treatments for cancer and other serious ailments. In the AMA vote at a meeting in New Orleans, 51 percent of delegates agreed that the shortage poses a public health “emergency” that requires immediate steps to combat.
The shortage currently extends to a variety of popular and crucial drugs, among them cardiovascular medications like epinephrine and Doxil, a cancer drug produced by Johnson & Johnson. There is also an overall shortage of some of the most commonly-used anesthetics.
This situation stems from several factors, with government price controls standing foremost among them. The government has a system whereby it places regulations on the way drugs are priced. This is intended to reduce costs across the medical industry – for patients, doctors, and insurance companies – but as a consequence it also forces drug manufacturers to produce their products on an extremely efficient scale and on a highly calculated schedule. As a result, when one small thing goes wrong in the manufacture process it can lead to a shortage.
This normally would not be a problem in a fragmented drug industry. But there are only a few major drug manufacturers in the United States. Therefore, a shortage in one could affect a significant proportion of the market. According to the AMA, the majority of medicines experiencing a shortage are produced by only a handful of companies.
The AMA voted in favor of a couple measures to rectify this issue. First, it resolved to lobby the government to fine manufacturers that don’t deal with a drug shortage within 30 days. Second, it put its researchers to work studying the economic and regulatory components behind the widespread shortages. The results of this research, presumably, will affect the organization’s future lobbying efforts.
For now, though, it is up to the Food and Drug Administration to insure that vital drugs can reach those patients who need them. Politics and economics aside, it is clearly the right thing to do.