Michael Baudin of Manchester retired eight years ago after a career in auto repair, but now the 76-year-old is back working part time as a driver so he can afford prescription medications. “Every year premiums go up and my co-pay is increasing,” he said. “I take medication for cholesterol, hypertension, heart, prostate and digestion. My wife quit her job due to health issues and her medication is expensive too.”
Baudin says his out-of-pocket cost for a 90-day supply of just one drug, Creon from AbbVie Inc., which he takes for digestion, is $100. The drug does not have a generic equivalent.
In hospitals across Connecticut and nationwide, workarounds to compensate for medication shortages are daily routines for treating patients – and health experts say it’s not about to change any time soon. Some acute-care drugs in short supply nationally are antibiotics, antipsychotics, intravenous saline, and morphine, according to the most recent shortage list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In Connecticut, hospital officials say they are turning to alternative drugs, rationing supplies, or seeking new suppliers to work around the shortages. At St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Dr. C. Steven Wolf, chief of emergency medicine, said doctors most recently have been dealing with shortages of dextrose, used to treat dehydration and low blood sugar, as well as intravenous saline and other basic medications.
Five Connecticut physicians have received letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alleging that they may have purchased unapproved drugs that put patients at risk of adverse health consequences, documents obtained by C-HIT show. The FDA documents show the five doctors were alerted as part of a wide-reaching federal probe involving Gallant Pharma International Inc., which sold more than $12.4 million in unapproved chemotherapy and injectable cosmetic drugs in the United States before the government shut down the operation in 2013. The letters to the doctors, dated April 1, 2015, say that “In addition to putting patients at risk, receiving misbranded or adulterated drugs and devices in interstate commerce and delivering or offering to deliver those drugs and devices to (or use on) others violates federal law.”
None of the doctors has been charged with wrongdoing, and only one acknowledged receiving the letter from the FDA. The case comes to light as drug companies and pharmacies are urging Congress and law enforcement officials to crack down on an increasing number of dangerous unapproved and counterfeit drugs being sold to doctors and consumers nationwide. Sales of counterfeit drugs and drugs not approved by FDA have soared into a multi-billion dollar industry with the growth of the Internet, and drug companies say efforts by governments to tackle illegal online drug sales are not sufficient.
Citing the escalating incidence of opioid addiction and overdoses in Connecticut, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday that the state needs a “comprehensive, multifaceted” approach to combat the problem and identify areas in which federal funds might support those efforts. More than a dozen educators, physicians, law-enforcement representatives, substance-abuse experts, public-health professionals, and members of advocacy groups joined Blumenthal at the standing-room-only event at the offices of Community Mental Health Affiliates in New Britain. Also attending were two young adults who were in recovery after years of addiction that led to their incarceration and eventual treatment, along with a mother who lost her 26-year-old son to an overdose. “Drug addiction among young people is a horrendous and life-threatening epidemic – a deadly epidemic, as we have seen in the last few days,” Blumenthal said, referring to the nine heroin overdoses, one of them fatal, that occurred in New London County this past weekend. Blumenthal said that educators, physicians, social services and lawmakers must work together.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has backed off a controversial plan that would have changed the way it determines Medicare coverage for advanced prosthetics – a plan critics said would have affected tens of thousands of veterans nationwide. CMS had issued a draft proposal, known as a Local Coverage Determination for Lower Limb Prostheses, that critics feared would limit access to prosthetics for amputees, including veterans. Following a public comment period that ended in August and a review of those comments, CMS on Monday announced it would not finalize the draft policy. “Both CMS and its contractors have heard concerns about access to prostheses for Medicare beneficiaries,” according to a statement provided by CMS spokeswoman Helen Mulligan. CMS said it would convene a work group in 2016 to examine the lower limb prostheses issue.
Very few veterans take advantage of a Pentagon policy designed to make it easier for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to upgrade their discharge status and become eligible to apply for veterans’ benefits, according to a Yale Law Clinic report. At a news conference Monday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., veterans, and Yale law students, blamed the Department of Defense for not adequately publicizing the policy to veterans with less than honorable discharges. Since new guidelines were announced last year, just 201 of tens of thousands of eligible veterans applied for a PTSD-related service upgrade, according to the report. Blumenthal called the statistic “a staggering, outrageous fact.”
“Veterans on the streets of New Haven or Connecticut or the rest of the country have no idea about this,” Blumenthal said. “It takes a vigorous and rigorous effort, which the DOD committed to and they have failed,” he added.
US Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced legislation that would require drug companies and medical device manufacturers to start reporting their payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as they do for physicians. “Requiring companies to disclose gifts and payments made to other health care providers – not just doctors – is absolutely essential,” Blumenthal said in a statement Tuesday. “The Provider Patient Sunshine Act will rein in dishonorable behavior by increasing transparency and accountability across the entire healthcare industry.”
Grassley added: “It makes sense to apply the sunshine (provisions) to anyone who prescribes medicine.”
The proposed Provider Payment Sunshine Act, would require drug companies and device makers to publicly disclose payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants for promotional talks, consulting and other services. The companies already report such payments to physicians in a national Open Payments database, under prior legislation co-authored by Grassley. The payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants would be added to that database. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants write a significant number of prescriptions in the federal Medicare program, data show.
Federal investigators have found that Medicare officials rarely enforce rules for private insurance plans intended to make sure beneficiaries will be able to see a doctor when they need care. It’s a problem many Connecticut seniors know too well. In 2013, UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurance company, dropped hundreds of health care providers from its Connecticut Medicare Advantage plan, including 1,200 doctors at the Yale Medical Group and Yale-New Haven Hospital. Medicare Advantage beneficiaries scrambled to find new insurance or new doctors while the Fairfield and Hartford counties medical associations went to court to try to stop the terminations. The report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said that Medicare did not check provider networks to ensure that doctors were available to beneficiaries and cited Connecticut as a “case study” in what can go wrong.
Every week for the past 7½ years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified an average of two dietary supplements being sold to consumers that were “tainted” and “potentially hazardous,” a C-HIT analysis of data reveals. The supplements contained prescription drug ingredients, controlled substances or untested pharmaceutical ingredients, which is prohibited by federal law and “can pose considerable dangers to consumers,” including stroke, liver damage, kidney failure and death, according to the FDA. C-HIT’s analysis of FDA data reveals 615 dietary supplements that were identified as tainted since Jan. 1, 2008. In the first half of this year alone, 59 tainted dietary supplements were posted on the FDA’s site.
Legislation pushed by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to strengthen suicide prevention programs for veterans won Senate approval Tuesday and is expected to become the first veterans’ bill of 2015 to be signed by President Obama. The measure – dubbed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, for a Texas Marine who killed himself in 2011 – won House approval last month. Its passage was blocked last year by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who has since retired from the Senate. The bill will require the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to submit to independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs. It also establishes a program to repay loans to psychiatrists who agree to work with veterans, improves VA collaboration with non-profit agencies, and calls for more online and community outreach mental health services for veterans. In the Senate, Blumenthal, ranking member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, worked with Republican John McCain, R-Ariz., to expedite the bill’s approval.