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Expand chart
Data: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Table: Axios Visuals

Last year, Medicare paid for $725 million worth of expensive medications administered in outpatient clinics — things like chemotherapy drugs — that ended up being discarded, according to new data released by the federal government.

Why it matters: Although that amount is just 2% of what Medicare paid for those types of infusion drugs, that's still a "very astonishing amount of waste," said Rena Conti, a health economist at Boston University who has studied the issue.

By the numbers: 10 highly discarded drugs accounted for 63% of Medicare's wasted dollars.

  • More than 26% of what Medicare paid for blood cancer drug Velcade, or $123 million, was flushed down the drain — the highest amount of any drug.
  • Medicare paid $226 million for the blood platelet injection NPlate, or more than half of the drug's U.S. sales, yet 22% of that drug ($78 million) was thrown away.
  • Takeda, which makes Velcade, and Amgen, which makes NPlate, did not immediately respond to interview requests.

Between the lines: 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.

  • 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 big picture: Requiring companies to make more appropriate vial sizes may not reduce wasted medications or save money. Researchers say drug companies could easily adapt because, as monopolists, they would still be able to charge whatever they want regardless of the vial or dose size.

  • "It's not necessarily true that if we got smaller vials, we would be paying less money," said Stacie Dusetzina, a pharmacoepidemiologist at Vanderbilt.

Hospitals and doctors play important roles, too, because they control the purchasing and use of these infused drugs.

  • However, "the system does not reward hospitals to be good stewards of resources," Conti said.

Go deeper

Twitter debuts subscription products to help double revenue by 2023

Photo: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Twitter said Thursday that it plans to increase the amount of money it makes off of its users by allowing them to pay creators directly for content they like.

Why it matters: The company is trying to broaden its revenue stream away from being dependent mostly on ads, and particularly on ads from big brands.

DHS directing $77 million to combat domestic violent extremism in states, cities

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

For the first time, states and localities will spend at least $77 million of Department of Homeland Security grant money on combatting domestic violent extremism, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Thursday.

Why it matters: Domestic terrorism has been on the rise in the U.S., spurred on by growing polarization and the mainstreaming of online conspiracy theories. In the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Mayorkas has made fighting the problem a "National Priority Area."

Senate confirms former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate voted 64-35 on Thursday to confirm former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as secretary of the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Granholm, only the second woman to head the department, will play a key role in President Biden’s efforts to accelerate the U.S. shift to clean energy and help other countries do the same.