Potential changes in regulation of medical devices would likely impact health care costs

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

As the medical device industry ramps up its campaign against further government regulation, Merrill Goozner takes stock of the regulatory and business environment in that arena and explains what is at stake. The key battleground at present is possible modifications to the 1976 law which allows devices to bypass some rigorous testing as long as they’re similar to something that has already been approved for market. The problem? That similarity doesn’t always mean they’re safe, as Goozner points out.

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Photo by AlishaV via Flickr

A study published earlier this year in Archives of Internal Medicine found that of 113 major product recalls between 2005 and 2009, only 19 percent had gone through the more rigorous clinical trial testing required for new products, while 71 percent had used the follow-on process. There had been only 49 major recalls in the prior five years.

Despite slipping onto market through the similarity provision, many of these new products claim to be improvements over their predecessors and thus come with commensurately higher price tags. According to Goozner and his sources, this little disconnect has done quite a bit to increase the cost of health care in America.

“Requiring evidence of benefit of effectiveness for patients before device approval would prevent billions of dollars from being spent on technologies that are not helpful for patients and are even harmful,” said Rita Redberg, editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine and a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “There are many examples, such as vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty for back pain [compression fractures], on which Medicare spends approximately $1 billion annually. After they were FDA-approved, randomized clinical trials showed they were no more effective than a sham procedure in relieving symptoms.”

The device industry, often cited for its red-hot growth rates in the past, now posts numbers that, while huge, still lag behind the health sector at large. That may be why the industry is stepping up political pressure to reduce its regulatory burden and to sidestep a 2.3 percent excise tax that was passed as part of recent health care reform efforts. For more on the money and politics involved, see Goozner’s full piece, which was also published in The Fiscal Times.

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