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Medicare Paid for $725 Million Worth of Drugs That Got Thrown Away

Yuval Rosenberg

Medicare Part B in 2018 paid for $725 million worth of drugs that wound up being discarded, according to federal data highlighted by Axios’s Bob Herman.

The medications in question include expensive chemotherapy drugs and other treatments administered in outpatient settings by injection or infusion. “Drugs that are given intravenously and are based on someone's weight are more difficult to administer than pills, and some cannot be reused after the vials are opened — thus making them prone to some inevitable waste,” Herman explains. “But some pharmaceutical companies package drugs in oversized single-use vials, knowing a lot will get thrown out but will lead to more reorders and sales.”

The cost of the discarded portions of medication represents just over 2% of the nearly $35 billion that Medicare paid for the drugs. But Rena Conti, a health economist at Boston University, tells Axios that it still adds up to a "very astonishing amount of waste.” Just 10 drugs accounted for nearly two-thirds of the wasted cost.

Some experts caution that requiring manufacturers to adjust their vial or dose size may not reduce waste or lead to savings because of the pricing power drug companies have. In other words, monopolists are going to charge what they want, Herman says, and there’s not much consumers can do about it.

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