The federal Medicare program and private health insurers waste nearly $3 billion every year buying cancer medicines that are thrown out because many drug makers distribute the drugs only in vials that hold too much for most patients, a group of cancer researchers has found.
The expensive drugs are usually injected by nurses working in doctors' offices and hospitals who carefully measure the amount needed for a particular patient and then, because of safety concerns, discard the rest.
If drug makers distributed vials containing smaller quantities, nurses could pick the right volume for a patient and minimize waste. Instead, many drug makers exclusively sell one-size-fits-all vials, ensuring that many smaller patients pay thousands of dollars for medicine they are never given, according to researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who published a study on Tuesday in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal.
Some of these medicines are distributed in smaller vial sizes in Europe, where governments play a more active role than the United States does in drug pricing and distribution.
"Drug companies are quietly making billions forcing little old ladies to buy enough medicine to treat football players, and regulators have completely missed it," said Dr. Peter B. Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering and a co-author of the study. "If we're ever going to start saving money in health care, this is an obvious place to cut."