Amid a “firestorm of ideas” on how to further cut Medicare and Medicaid spending, ideas once deemed radical could gain more traction. Some legislators have tossed around the idea of shutting down the government, if need be. “There’s nothing on the radar scope but static and fuzz,” Vaughan says. “It is totally unclear what is going to happen.”
Dearth of Drugs
Another trend generating both uncertainty and headaches in the nation’s hospitals is an unprecedented prescription drug shortage that could last well into the New Year, based on the number of medicines now in scarce supply across the country. In mid-November, for example, the American Society of Clinical Oncology announced “severe and worsening shortages of many critical therapies,” including doxorubicin, leucovorin, etoposide, nitrogen mustard, vincristine, propofol, and morphine.
Valerie Jensen, associate director of the FDA’s drug shortage program, told the Associated Press that her agency was seeing a record number of drug shortfalls in 2010. In mid-November, the FDA’s Current Drug Shortages list (www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/DrugShortages/ucm050792.htm) included multiple formulations of 50 different medicines. Why so many? Jensen blamed the scarcity, in part, on the fact that many older drugs are not as profitable as newer ones. Manufacturing issues or delays and increased demand were the two biggest official reasons, though the FDA reported that at least eight formulations had been pulled or held from the market.
Vaughan says he’s heard plenty of buzz about the problem showing up quickly and unexpectedly in hospitals. Drug companies are supposed to give the FDA six months’ notice if they stop producing a drug, he says, but there’s no penalty if they don’t. “It’s amazing the number of people who are starting to worry about it,” he says. TH
Bryn Nelson is a freelance medical writer based in Seattle.