Shkreli Awards: Dishonorable Mentions

Last week, we released the 2021 Shkreli Awards, our top ten list of the worst examples of profiteering and dysfunction in health care. Unfortunately, there were plenty of nominees to choose from — too many to highlight in one list. So we’re bringing you the “dishonorable mentions” — nominees that didn’t quite make the top ten, but are worth calling out nonetheless.

Now that Martin Shkreli faces a $64 million fine and lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, we hope to see similar accountability for these nominees– and sooner than five years from now…

Hospitals refuse to comply with price transparency rule designed to help consumers 

For years, consumers have been unable to compare prices between hospitals because they were kept secret. Thanks to a government rule that went into effect January 2021, hospitals are now required to publish consumer-friendly prices for hundreds of “shoppable services.” This should be a boon for patients, but according to a June 2021 study, as many as half of US hospitals had failed to comply with this requirement. Other hospitals published their prices, but added code to the data that prevented these pages from showing up in web searches, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

SOURCES: Suhas Gondi et al., JAMA Internal Medicine; ​​Tom McGinty, Anna Wilde Matthews, and Melanie Evans, The Wall Street Journal

Health systems allow big donors, board members, and executives to cut the line for Covid-19 vaccines 

Several health systems made the news (and one triggered an FBI investigation) for making special arrangements to get Covid-19 vaccines to VIPs. In January 2021, MorseLife Health System, a nonprofit that operates a nursing home and assisted living facility in West Palm Beach, FL, reportedly offered donors and members of the board access to vaccines that were intended only for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. 

The same month, the Seattle Times reported that three Seattle hospitals gave special vaccine access to donors or board members through invite-only clinics or appointments, prompting rebukes from the Seattle mayor, state governor, and the state department of health.  

And Chicago’s Loretto Hospital admitted in March 2021 to vaccinating the CFO’s neighbors and the staff at his favorite high-end restaurants and stores, who were not eligible for the shot at the time; the CFO resigned and the FBI is currently investigating.

SOURCES: Isaac Stanley-Becker and Shawn Boburg, The Washington Post; Evan Bush, Mike Reicher and Sydney Brownstone, Seattle Times; Kelly Bauer and David Jackson, Block Club Chicago

Doctor trades opioid prescriptions for unnecessary spinal injections

In September 2021, a Michigan doctor was convicted of defrauding Medicare out of $100 million by “by administering medically unnecessary spinal injections in exchange for prescriptions of high doses of opioids to patients,” according to the US Department of Justice. Dr. Francisco Patino prescribed an excessive amount of highly-addictive opioid pills — in 2016 and 2017, he prescribed more 30-mg Oxycodone pills than any other doctor in Michigan. In exchange for these prescriptions, he gave patients spinal injections and billed the cost to Medicare. If patients refused to get the injections, he withheld the prescriptions, the DOJ found.

SOURCE: US Department of Justice

Thanks to Lown Weekly reader Johanna Ryan for submitting this nomination!

Cancer center fails to report results of clinical trial for over 15 years 

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center completed a clinical trial of targeted irradiation for patients with metastasizing brain tumors in 2005, but they still haven’t reported the results of the trial publicly, Stat News reported. The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, an independent German agency that assesses the effectiveness of medicines, noticed that the results were missing when they attempted to compare targeted irradiation with other cancer treatments. MD Anderson also refused to share the results with IQEHC upon their request. US law requires trial sponsors to report clinical trial results no later than one year after the study’s completion date, but trial sponsors frequently miss or ignore this deadline.

SOURCE: Ed Silverman, Stat News

Thanks to Lown Weekly reader Till Bruckner for submitting this nomination!

Florida’s program to cover medical expenses for brain-damaged children denied claims for necessary therapies

A ProPublica/Miami Herald investigation found that Florida’s $1.5 billion program to cover medical expenses for children with severe brain injuries routinely denied and delayed paying for needed treatment. A 2021 audit showed that case managers had no system for determining whether requested services were medically necessary; sometimes they just used Google.

In response to the investigation, all members of the program’s board resigned, and the Florida legislature passed a law giving additional cash assistance to families and clarifying that the Florida program be administered with the best interests of children in mind.  

​​SOURCE: Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang, Propublica/The Miami Herald

Doctors make millions pushing unproven and harmful medications for Covid-19

A group called “America’s Frontline Doctors” has not only spread dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine, they are making money off it, The Intercept reports. AFD partnered with a telehealth company to facilitate $90 “consultations” with patients, in which they prescribed unproven drugs for Covid-19 like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Patients have spent an estimated $15 million on these consultations and medications. 

SOURCE: Micah Lee, The Intercept