WASHINGTON—An Associated Press analysis revealed that Medicaid paid nearly $198 million from 2004 to 2007 for more than 100 unapproved drugs commonly prescribed for colds and pain.
Taxpayers have spent at least $200 million since 2004 for such drugs; however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says unapproved prescription drugs are a public health problem, and some unapproved medications have been linked to dozens of deaths.
Millions of private patients are taking them and their availability may create a false sense of security.
Data for 2008 was not available but unapproved drugs still are being sold. The AP checked the medications against FDA databases, using agency guidelines to determine if they were unapproved. FDA is trying to squeeze them from the market, but conflicting federal laws allow the Medicaid health program for low-income people to pay for the drugs.
Medicaid officials acknowledge the problem, but say they need help from Congress to fix it. FDA and Medicaid are part of the Health and Human Services Department, but FDA has yet to compile a master list of unapproved drugs, and Medicaid—which may be the biggest purchaser—keeps paying.
"I think this is something we ought to look at very hard, and we ought to fix it," said Medicaid Chief Herb Kuhn. "It raises a whole set of questions, not only in terms of safety, but in the efficiency of the program—to make sure we are getting the right set of services for beneficiaries."