Deficit: Cut medical devices to curb health care spending, Harvard researchers say

August 29, 2011 by MassDevice staff

Expensive medical devices are to blame for rampant growth in health care spending, Harvard researchers say.

Harvard School of Public Health

Health care spending could be curbed by doctors cutting back on expensive medical devices rather than slashing Medicare and Medicaid, according to Harvard researchers.

Speaking in advance of next month's Congressional supercommittee meeting, aimed at reducing budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years, Harvard Medical School professors and economists Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra pointed the finger at medical devices as a driver of rampant health care costs.

"We are neither allocating resources efficiently between health and other uses, nor are we getting as much health as we could for every dollar spent," they wrote. They pointed to devices like angioplasty balloons and stents made by Abbott (NYSE:ABT) and used to open blocked arteries.

Physicians opt for the costly devices while overlooking cheaper options such as aspirin for heart attack patients, according to Baicker and Chandra.

The recommendations fly in the face of last month's reports that national medical device prices and spending have barely budged in 20 years, released by industry trade group AdvaMed.

"Our own commissioned work over the past several years has shown that medical technology pricing is remarkably stable.  It has grown even slower than the overall health expenditures,"AdvaMed's executive VP of Communications Gary Karr told MassDevice."We think that means that American patients and patients around the globe are getting incredible value out of medical technology."

Device and diagnostic prices have increased at an average annual rate of 1.0 percent compared to national inflation at 2.8 percent, according to AdvaMed's report.