The appointment of a former Medtronic Inc. (NYSE:MDT) consultant to one of the top spots at the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs is drawing scrutiny from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).
Grassley, a high-profile thorn in the side of medical device and pharmaceutical firms when it comes to the transparency of their relationships with physicians, sent a letter to VA secretary Eric Shinseki asking whether Dr. Stephen Ondra’s judgment is likely to be swayed by his association with the Fridley, Minn.-based medical device monolith.
Grassley asks Shinseki whether "policy advice and decisions at the VA are vulnerable to potential conflicts of financial interest" in the Sept. 28 letter, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Ondra and Medtronic parted ways in July 2008, just before Medtronic doled out $3.6 million in royalties to the doctor, from spine-surgery instrument sales, according to VA disclosure filings.
Grassley wants to know if Ondra’s duties require any further contact with Medtronic. A Grassley spokeswoman told the Star Tribune that the letter was a "continuation of his work to establish greater transparency when it comes to drug and device-maker payments to physicians."
Shinseki, in a written response to Grassley, wrote that Ondra’s ties to Medtronic were disclosed during the vetting process before his appointment. Government ethics rules prohibit Ondra to restrict contact with industry and he is not part of the VA’s medical device procurement operation, Shinseki wrote, according to the newspaper.
Grassley co-sponsored legislation included in the healthcare reform act that mandates the public disclosure of gifts and payments made to doctors by medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s "Physician Payments Sunshine Provision" requires companies to begin reporting gifts or payments worth more than $10 no later than March 31, 2013. The result, a searchable database containing the names and addresses of each recipient and the details of the payments, will be made publicly available by Sept. 30 of that year, and on June 30 every year following.