ICE Hysterectomy Doc Named; ‘Trump Card’ Killed Drug Price Deal; Surviving COVID Winter

Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.

ICE Hysterectomy Doc Named

The Daily Beast reported that Mahendra Amin, MD, is the ob/gyn at the center of the “excessive hysterectomy” scandal that arose out of a whistleblower complaint last week.

Though Amin wasn’t named in the original complaint — which said “high rates of hysterectomies” were performed on immigrant women in federal custody in Irwin County, Georgia — lawyers representing 17 detainees at the facility have since claimed that Amin performed unnecessary surgery on their clients.

The news outlet reported that Amin is not board-certified, which is a voluntary process. He does maintain an active medical license in Georgia.

Amin’s attorney said the doctor “vehemently den[ies]” the allegations.

The Washington Post, however, reported that Irwin County Hospital says its records show only two women in immigration custody had hysterectomies at the facility since 2017, both of which were performed by Amin.

Amin has a private clinic near the detention center, but the hospital is the only place where a hysterectomy could be performed, The Post reported.

‘Trump Card’ Killed Drug Price Deal

The Trump administration and the pharmaceutical industry missed an opportunity to control drug prices especially for older Americans, with a last-minute snag upending a deal they had struck recently, the New York Times reports.

Executives with a few pharma companies agreed to pay $150 billion to handle out-of-pocket consumer costs and most Medicare recipients’ drug copayments.

But White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows demanded the companies also pay for $100 medication vouchers to be mailed to seniors before November’s election, industry officials told the newspaper.

The executives balked at this request, citing factors including bad policy and reluctance to politicize the deal. “We could not agree to the administration’s plan to issue one-time savings cards right before a presidential election,” said Priscilla VanderVeer of PhRMA. “One-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines.”

The administration blamed the executives for the deal falling through, saying industry divisions regarding how to finance the agreement undermined negotiations.

PhRMA’s CEO told the group’s board in late August that Meadows had vowed to say just that if the executives refused to pay for the “Trump cards” and the deal fell through, according to the Times. Meadows also threatened the administration would go through with a “most-favored nations” executive order regarding drug prices, which drug companies have opposed. Trump then issued the order in mid-September.

Rx Price Hikes: No End in Sight

Prescription drug prices have drastically increased over the last decade, leaving many patients unable to afford their medications, Kaiser Health News reports, while policy efforts to curtail the dramatic rises have stalled during the pandemic.

Costs for the 17 top-selling branded drugs more than doubled from 2012 to 2017 (including Lipitor, Lyrica, and Chantix), while the average list price of all drugs is rising 9% annually, according to University of Pittsburgh researchers. Particularly affected have been insulin products.

“Let’s be clear — these price hikes aren’t because the medicines got better or there was a significant increase in research and development,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in March, while working on a bill. “No, this was because the pharmaceutical companies could get away with it.”

When the pandemic hit, bipartisan legislation in Congress was in the works to let the federal government power to set prices or limit price increases; it passed out of Grassley’s Senate Finance Committee but hasn’t gotten a floor vote.

The same drug industry accused of greedily raising prices for greed is now supposed to develop, produce, and distribute a pandemic-ending COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, KHN notes.

Surviving COVID Winter

The U.S. figures to be in for a long winter fighting COVID-19, James Hamblin, MD, writes in The Atlantic. But after consulting with experts, he offered a few strategies to mitigate the suffering.

“It is now widely accepted among experts that the United States is primed for a surge in cases at a uniquely perilous moment in our national history,” writes Hamblin, a lecturer at the Yale University School of Public Health. “The virus is here to stay. At best, it would fade away gradually, but that would happen after, not before, the winter.”

Americans should not plan to have a coronavirus vaccine widely distributed by winter, he said.

The usual cold-weather factors that impair immune function will be exacerbated by “restrictions on social life and concerns for health and economic security, leaving us physiologically vulnerable.”

Albert Ko, MD, chair of the Yale School of Public Health’s department of epidemiology, said: “I think the resurgence is going to be worse than what we’ve seen in the summer.”

Winter in the Southern Hemisphere has already hammered some spots: Melbourne, Australia, has been locked down because of a winter resurgence, while South Africa has also reported a COVID surge.

But not all is lost, Hamblin writes. He suggests Americans accept the reality that the disease is here for a while; plan for more shutdowns; live as if they are contagious; build infrastructure to keep workers safe; and amplify COVID-19 testing efforts.

  • Ryan Basen reports for MedPage’s enterprise & investigative team. He has worked as a journalist for more than a decade, earning national and state honors for his investigative work. He often writes about issues concerning the practice and business of medicine. Follow

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