In February, Health Affairs featured Duff Wilson’s article on “Deepening Drug Shortages.” As Wilson notes, “the number of reported drug shortages in the United States nearly tripled between 2005 and 2010, increasing from 61 to178 and emerging as a systemic problem in the US health care system.” Sharona Hoffman has recently written on the topic:
How could such shortages plague premier hospitals in the twenty-first century in the wealthiest country in the world? How could even patients with comprehensive health insurance and abundant financial resources be denied adequate care because the medications they require are simply not available in the marketplace?
The Article posits that public health policies and standards must serve multiple roles. They should deter both carelessness that leads to product contamination and strategic decisions to discontinue or suspend manufacturing when such decisions will cause shortages. At the same time, governmental rules should encourage production of vulnerable drugs. Accordingly, the Article proposes a blend of legislative, regulatory, and private-sector interventions that should realign manufacturers’ incentives and significantly diminish the drug shortage phenomenon.
Hoffman’s article is well worth reading in full, and I hope it guides policymakers. As I noted last year, a plutonomy will not reliably generate even the products that its most powerful consumers may occasionally need.