More on Healthcare’s Saline Bag “Shortage”

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The saline bag “shortage” in healthcare has been going on for a few years. I’ve got some strong opinions on the matter, as I have had the pleasure of interviewing the assigned category managers at the nation’s largest healthcare GPOs, health system sourcing professionals and executives at Baxter, B.Braun and Hospira, the nation’s three largest manufacturers and suppliers of the product.

It turns out that there are very few resin producers that make the type and grade used to manufacture saline bags. Not only did these producers cut production, but they’ve increased their pricing by more than 300% in the last year. Why? The most popular answer is to cover the costs related to what the resin producers claim are potentially new and devastating liabilities.

Yes, that’s right, it’s the damn lawyers again.

Apparently, the producers fear a legal trend that allows them to be adjoined to lawsuits where their resins are used in the manufacturing processes of what turns out to be a faulty medical device(s). And because the settlements reflect high stakes, the producers of these special resins, which are used in a variety of other products that don’t carry such risks, suddenly and collectively decided it’s not worth it to them.

The story holds together nicely, but is that really it?

Something’s not quite right here. The resin problem didn’t sneak up on anyone, meaning the consequences now being suffered were premeditated. Isn’t it far more likely that the resin producers are just holding out to reset their price point?

While the apologists promote messages suggesting the shortage is a function of the saline bag manufacturers not specifying or approving alternatives fast enough, others point out that the shortage was necessary to grease the skids for unprecedented price increases.

No one who should know the answers to these questions wants to talk about this. It seems that while supply chain disruptions manifest in unlimited ways, the consequences are always the same.

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