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HOSPITALS/POLICY/TECHNOLOGY: More on the dodgy practices of the GPOs

Via Health Care Renewal, a great article on the ongoing scandals of the GPOs in the Fort Worth Weekly. It’s long but well worth a read.

Essentially the GPOs, on behalf of the hospitals, agree to pretty much exclusive contracts with big suppliers (BD, formerly known as Becton Dickinson, is singled out in the article) and lock out competitors from the hospital markets they control. The hospitals pay over the odds for their supplies, and then bill that back to their clients (who include lots of government agencies). So we all pay. Meanwhile the GPOs get administrative “fees” from the suppliers, which they in turn pass some of back to the hospitals. And it’s a fair bet that very little of that is reimbursed back to the end payer. Does this remind you of any other part of the health care business?

It does to the Congress which has been investigating GPOs for a while now with precious little result. Luckily the current Administration seems not to mind dubious business practices from monopoly sellers, well not if the company has close connections with certain politicians.  Whether the local authorities or the civil courts will be so kind seems less likely given the records of judgments in the article.

Meanwhile, while BD is being bashed it is also being accused by an ex-employee of stiffing the US government by refusing to sell it needed needles, when it has huge stockpiles in Europe. Apparently BD was also illegally trading with Iraq—something that other well connected companies seem to do with impunity.

A doctor twice promoted by medical device maker BD alleges he was illegally fired after repeatedly complaining about serious company breaches in safety, quality control and ethics, including deliberately keeping off the market syringes that could have stretched the supply of flu shots during the 2004 vaccine shortage. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Dr. Zeil Rosenberg also alleges that BD, formerly known as Becton Dickinson, refused to upgrade its shoddy clinical studies quality control system, illegally copied a syringe made by another company, and twice tried to ship syringes to Iraq in 2001 without government authorization. Rosenberg’s objections to the Iraq shipments halted them until proper approval was obtained, the lawsuit states.

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Dr Crippen
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Scary stuff, Michael. It is fascinating and yet some how terrifying to watch the American system because, as in so many ways, we are quietly following although 20 years behind. In the UK, the traditional NHS is now being stealthily dismantled by an oxymoronically right wing Labour government which is quietly allowing the private sector to have increasing influence. Big business is taking over… and whatever the failings of the NHS have been (huge) there has been a vauge but genuine service ethic behind the “free at the point of entry” principal. It is now being eroded. Mammon approacheth.