Manufacturers are distributing expensive cancer drugs in vials that contain larger dosages than needed by the average patient resulting in waste & unnecessary cost to taxpayers

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WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General today to conduct a study to determine the amount of waste from inappropriately sized drug vials. Drug manufacturers are distributing expensive cancer drugs in vials that contain larger dosages than needed by the average patient. According to a recent report published in BMJ and reported about in The New York Times, this practice results in the federal government and private health insurers paying for $3 billion for drugs that end up in the trash can. In addition to wasting taxpayer dollars through federal health programs like Medicare, this practice also drives up the cost on patients who are often paying 20 percent out-of-pocket on amounts of drugs that are unnecessarily large.

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Yesterday, Durbin offered an amendment during an Appropriations Committee meeting that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to report to Congress how they plan to address concerns over these large vial sizes, taking into consideration patient safety and proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars. The amendment, which was strongly opposed by the pharmaceuticals industry, was ultimately voted down. 

In a letter to Inspector General Levinson, Durbin, Klobuchar, Shaheen, and Mikulski urged HHS to study this practice and provide specific examples of where a different vial size could significantly reduce waste.

“A recent report published in BMJ shows drug manufacturers are distributing single use drugs in vials that contain larger dosages than needed by the average patient, resulting in the excessive waste of highly-valuable drugs,” wrote the Senators. “Since Medicare Part B beneficiaries pay copayments of up to 20 percent for prescription drugs, seniors are paying higher out-of-pocket costs for drugs they do not need or receive. We request the HHS-OIG provide specific examples of where a different vial size could significantly reduce waste.”

In March, Durbin led a letter signed by 10 other Senators including Klobuchar and Mikulski to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calling for an investigation into the impact of selling medicine in large one-size-fits-all vials.  Also in March, Klobuchar and Shaheen wrote a letter to the FDA urging the federal agency to examine the dosage size of cancer fighting drugs.  

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