2018 Shkreli Awards: “Dishonorable Mentions”

In case you missed it, we recently published the 2nd annual Shkreli Awards, a top ten list of the worst examples of profiteering and dysfunction in health care. Unfortunately, there was no shortage of bad news in health care in 2018, making it tough to choose the top ten “winners.”

There were many Shkreli nominees that didn’t make the top ten but we thought were still important to share, so we are giving “Dishonorable Mentions” to these runners-up, along with comments from our judges panel. Enjoy!

Medics in Hillsborough County, FL refuse ambulance ride to Black woman, who then went into a coma and died. 

Nicole Black’s daughter, Crystle Galloway, was severely injured when she fell and hit her head in a bathroom. When Ms. Black called 911, the medics who responded they told her that she could not afford the $600 ambulance ride to take her daughter to the hospital, and that she should drive her there on her own. Ms. Galloway fell into a coma and died five days later. Ms. Black believes that race played a part in their interactions. Months later, one medic was fired and three others were demoted or suspended. The medic who was fired, Lt. John Morris, showed no remorse to the investigator, saying that “he said he would do everything again in the same way and that he can tell just by looking at a patient what they need.”

“This case is so indicative of our healthcare system perpetrating racism. We must build the most anti-racist systems from the ground up, and stories like this should be sentinel events for massive attention and radical change. This is a huge tragedy but is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg. When will health professionals and political leadership start taking necessary steps to end our apartheid system?” –Andrew Goldstein, MD

Hundreds of patients suffer from complications after a dermatologist records dancing videos during surgery as a publicity stunt. 

Dr. Windell Bouette, a dermatologist in Atlanta, uploaded more than 20 Youtube videos of herself dancing and singing along to music during her operations as a cheap and easy marketing scheme to promote her practice. Some videos showed body parts of unconscious patients during a procedure without the patient’s consent. Nearly 100 women have said that they suffer complications post-surgery with patients claiming issues from disfigurement and infections to brain damage. At least five malpractice lawsuits are currently pending against Dr. Bouette and her medical license was suspended.

EmCare launches marketing campaign to blame insurance companies for high ED bills. 

The emergency department staffing company EmCare was widely criticized last year for upcoding and out-of-network billing practices. This year, EmCare’s parent company Envision launched a marketing campaign to cast the blame for surprise bills onto insurers, and ostensibly distract the public from EmCare’s egregious billing practices.

Ambulance industry has made costs so high that woman pleaded, “Don’t call an ambulance” while being rescued from subway accident. 

In July, one Boston commuter had a terrible accident. She got her leg caught in the gap between the subway train and the platform, resulting in a massive cut that went down to the bone. But what made the headlines was her plea to bystanders NOT to call an ambulance because it would cost too much. This event illustrates how Americans are putting their health and wellbeing on the line because they fear financial damage from inflated medical costs, especially ambulance costs.

“The trade-offs that everyday people are being asked to make, the calculations they are being forced to undertake in the scariest of situations, suggest that far too many of America’s politicians have placed too little value on the well-being of its citizens. Nothing will change until their fellow citizens step into the ballot box and insist on something better.” — Gary Schwitzer

VA hospital executives give themselves the highest ranking, even when their operating room was closed for six months.

The Veteran’s Affairs hospital in West Haven, CT received a rating of 5 stars, the highest available, even though they closed their operating room for six months to address concerns about sterilization and surgical tools. The hospital executives are graded and paid based on their ranking, giving them an incentive to raise their own ranking despite obvious failings.

Goldman Sachs analyst says what they’re all thinking: Curing patients is bad for business.

In an April research report titled, “The Genome Revolution,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote that gene therapy that cures diseases with one dose, while great for society, is not a good business model for drug companies, because there is no sustainable cash flow. For biotech businesses, curing infectious diseases is especially problematic, because “curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients, thus the incident pool also declines,” they wrote.

Private health plans fail to provide needed care for vulnerable Medicaid patients, while pocketing hundreds of millions in profits.

The Dallas News documented how the private health plans that are paid to deliver care to Medicaid patients are neglecting to provide necessary care to the most vulnerable. In one case, Superior Health company’s refusal to provide 24/7 nursing care for a toddler led to his catastrophic brain damage. In another case, Amerigroup cut nursing hours for a paralyzed woman and did not replace her hydraulic lift, leaving her bedridden and suffering.

Merck & Co. pulls out of long term agreement to supply drug to West African children to instead sell drug for 10 times the price in China.

The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. ended a long-term agreement with UNICEF to supply a lifesaving vaccine for rotavirus, a deadly form of diarrhea, for children in West Africa. At the same time, the company received approval to sell the drug in China where the price per dose will be more than 10 times greater than what it is being sold for in West Africa. While Merck claims their decision is due to a supply shortage caused by country-specific manufacturing and packaging issues, their decision will result in more than a half-million children in West Africa not receiving the vaccine in 2018 and 2019.

Dialysis industry giants spend all-time record high ofmore than $100 million to kill California’s ballot measure and keep their prices high.

The two largest dialysis companies, DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care, spent a combined $111 million in opposition of a California referendum, the most ever spent on a CA ballot question campaign. The referendum would have limited dialysis clinic profits to 115% of their spending on direct patient care and quality improvement. The ballot question did not pass, leaving DaVita and Fresenius’ $3 billion in revenue from California completely intact.