Lown Institute’s Shkreli Awards for Health Malpractice

Ideas and Issues
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June 30, 2021

New Orleans    

I’d never heard of the Lown Institute or their Shkreli Awards, but they came to my attention from an unlikely, but welcome, source, The National Geographic, in their recent issue.   Maybe I should not have been surprised.  The Geographic is no longer the animal and exotic picture book of my youth, but an increasingly relevant must-read to keep up with global issues of climate, environment, and, even race.  Even medical profiteering, as it turns out!

Even if the Lown Institute had missed my radar, the namesake of their tongue-in-cheek awards program, Shkreli was infamous.  All will remember this was the young and obnoxious cad who leveraged the purchase of various drugs into his semi-shell company in order to give lifesaving medicines sky-high prices for his personal wealth.  He’s in jail now for some of his shenanigans, although that doesn’t mean that his business model has been caged.

The Lown Institute’s namesake was Bernard Lown, who died recently at 100-years.  He was a doctor, inventor, medical innovator, and political activist against nuclear war that led to a Nobel Prize.  Turns out that the Institute has given its annual “awards” for medical bad behavior since 2017.  I wish we had known earlier and glad we know now.  ACORN and its partners have released several studies on nonprofit hospitals’ profiteering rather than providing the charity care that their tax-exempt status demands, so we’ll be reaching out.

This year’s awards were humdingers, and, tragically, all highlighted malpractice of various sorts during the pandemic.  Here are some of their top ten, featured in the National Geographic:

  • The federal PPE task force “gives lifesaving supplies to private companies to distribute, causing bidding wars and delays.”
  • One of the drug companies that got “nearly a billion dollars” for vaccine development, then turned around set the highest price of any manufacturer.
  • Some hospitals with extra beds refused to take uninsured patients from area hospitals “that are overrun.”
  • Nursing homes made the list for their death counts and the revelations of their inability to protect the elderly in their care.
  • Big pharma competed rather than cooperated on Covid-19.
  • A Moderna company board member who was also a hospital CEO wrote an op-ed rationalizing the high price of the vaccines without disclosing he had received almost a half-million in stock options from Moderna.
  • Some hospitals punished staff for wearing masks and speaking out on Covid-19 safety issues.
  • A “Connecticut doctor” used his “town’s Covid-19 testing sites to bilk residents.”
  • “Pandemic profiteers peddle fake and potentially harmful Covid-19 ‘cures.’”
  • “Private equity-backed companies spend millions to protect surprise billing while cutting physicians pay and pocketing relief dollars.”

Whatever happened to the “do no harm” Hippocratic Oath?  Thanks to the Lown Institute for doing the awards and the National Geographic for giving them a huge megaphone to shout them out in the front of the magazine.