10 healthcare names get Shkreli Awards for bad behavior

Ten individuals and organizations are recognized in the name of a "pharma bro" with the release of Lown Institute's Shkreli Awards. 

The 7th Annual list contains the "most egregious examples of profiteering and dysfunction in healthcare," decided by a panel of 19 judges who are patient activists, clinicians, health policy experts and journalists. The awards are organized by Lown Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that measures hospitals' and health systems' social responsibility.

Martin Shkreli earned the nickname of pharma bro when, in 2015, his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired a 62-year-old drug called Daraprim and, overnight, increased the price from about $13.50 per pill to $750. In 2017, Mr. Shkreli was convicted in federal court on two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiring to commit securities fraud, resulting in a 2018 sentence of seven years in prison. In 2022, a federal judge ordered Mr. Shkreli to pay $64 million for hiking the price of Daraprim and imposed a permanent ban on his executive roles in public companies and a lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry.

"When you see all these stories in one place, they stop being anecdotes and start to tell a bigger story," Vikas Saini, MD, president of the Lown Institute, said. "The need for more fairness and integrity in U.S. healthcare couldn't be clearer."

Lown Institute's awardees were all covered by local or national news outlets throughout 2023. While the media coverage of the people, institutions, trends or allegations is dated in 2023, some of the actions in question date further back. The original news stories, all linked below, have more complete details than provided in the Lown Institute's awards. 

Below are the recipients of the 2023 Shkreli Award, as decided by the Lown Institute. 

1. Columbia and its affiliated hospital for "little intervention" in physician's sexual assaults. Robert Hadden, MD, was convicted in July 2023 for inducing four victims to travel interstate to his medical offices in Manhattan so that he could sexually abuse them. Dr. Hadden carried out the abuse for approximately 25 years from 1987 to 2012 as an obstetrician/gynecologist employed by Columbia University and its affiliated hospital Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Lown Institute pointed to "minimal intervention" from the hospital to protect the hundreds of patients reported to come forward with complaints about the physician, based on reporting from ProPublica and New York Magazine.

2. CommonSpirit Health for paying its CEO $35.5 million. As CEO compensation continues to receive scrutiny and attention in healthcare, Lown Institute selected CommonSpirit Health as an awardee for the $35.5 million compensation package former CEO Lloyd Dean received in 2021, which STAT called attention to in 2023. Mr. Dean retired from CommonSpirit in August 2022.

3. Pharmacy companies that claim Medicare drug price negotiation violates their constitutional rights. The Inflation Reduction Act allows Medicare officials to negotiate drug prices, potentially saving the government $100 billion. Citing a report from the Congressional Research Service, Lown Institute awarded unnamed pharmaceutical companies that have filed lawsuits to challenge Medicare drug pricing negotiations in court, citing constitutional rights violations, particularly the First Amendment. 

4. Hospitals partnering with private equity to offer medical credit cards. Lown Institute categorizes U.S. hospitals that endorse medical credit cards in partnership with private equity-backed firms for surgeries as problematic behavior, reported by KFF. Lown notes that these cards come with "interest-free" periods that end for interest rates to skyrocket to 26% later. 

5. A physician allowed to practice despite discipline in a dozen states. Despite discipline in numerous states, loss of hospital privileges, and Medicare fraud allegations, James McGuckin, MD, continues to practice. The radiologist's vascular clinics have faced scrutiny for unnecessary procedures. As of August, he still practiced in Pennsylvania. Dr. McGuckin's attorneys told ProPublic and The Philadelphia Inquirer, first to report on the matter, that their client has never been personally found liable for fraud, disputing recent government allegations as "provably wrong."

6. GlaxoSmithKline for years of marketing Zantac despite its potential carcinogenic compound. GlaxoSmithKline was allegedly aware of the cancer risk associated with heartburn medication Zantac in the 1980s but has reportedly downplayed the issue, withholding a key study from the FDA, Bloomberg reported in early 2023. The FDA forced the drug off the market in 2020. Now the British drugmaker faces litigation on its Zantac sales. A reformulated alternative to Zantac now exists; the old version's key ingredient of NDMA is used to induce cancer in lab rats.

7. A cardiologist accused of placing dozens of unnecessary stents in patients. Seven patients filed malpractice complaints against Indiana cardiologist Edward Harlamert, MD, for unnecessary procedures, misdiagnoses, and excessive medications. Dr. Harlamert does not deny the claim of placing up to 90 stents in a single patient and is defended by his attorneys, who assert his commitment to quality care. The story was reported by Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR.

8. Hospitals that allegedly "dump" sick, homeless patients on the street. Lown Institute points to hospitals in California and Kentucky that were covered by local news outlets San Diego Tribune and WAVE in 2023 for "patient dumping" of the homeless. Lown decries hospitals that regularly engage in the practice, which federal and state laws are designed to prohibit. 

9. Physicians who test products on vulnerable patients for payments from medical devicemakers. Lown Institute focuses on one particular devicemaker, Medtronic, and one particular surgeon, Rodney White, MD, for this award. The think tank points to payments from the devicemaker to surgeons who teach courses on implanting its devices. Dr. Rodney White at Harbor UCLA Medical Center assured a patient to undergo a $15,000 Medtronic device implantation in 2014, possibly unnecessary, the LA Times reported in 2023. The patient suffered a stroke afterward, while county officials deemed the surgeon's actions appropriate and endorsed his collaboration with Medtronic.

10. Hospital that proposed to transfer a comatose patient out of the country. Lown Institute denounces Lehigh Valley Health — Cedar Crest Hospital for its care of a comatose patient, whose family sought options in her care. The hospital reportedly presented the family with a choice: pay $500 daily for at-home care equipment, find an alternative facility, or agree to a "medical deportation" to the Dominican Republic within 48 hours, according to 2023 reporting from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Amid protests from immigration advocates, the patient was transferred to another hospital. 

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