The medical device industry may not fare better under a more Republican Congress.
As the industry and its allies in the U.S. Senate try to mitigate the Food & Drug Administration’s plans to tighten the 510(k) program, the incoming Republican chairman of a powerful House investigatory committee is taking aim at medical device companies, especially companies that make orthopedic devices.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who lead the House Oversight and Government Committee, told The Wall Street Journal last week he wants to cut Medicare spending on orthopedic devices that doctors overuse.
Mr. Issa said his own doctor told him surgeons have an incentive under Medicare to implant many joint and bone screws to support patients’ spines, when fewer implants — or none at all — might be equally effective and safer.
“They have got to come up with a system that doesn’t reward people for putting more metal in somebody’s spine,” Mr. Issa told the Journal.
Issa’s efforts could spell bad news for Minnesota, home to a vibrant orthopedics industry, including Medtronic Inc. (NYSE:MDT), whose own spine unit already is struggling, Spineology Inc., and Tornier Inc., which recently filed for a $205 million initial public offering.
Interestingly, Issa seemed to endorse the once unthinkable concept of Medicare basing its reimbursement decisions on comparative effectiveness.
Some Republicans, led by GOP star Sarah Palin, equated comparative effectiveness with government-run “death panels” during the contentious debate over President Obama’s healthcare reform bill.
Comparative effectiveness is fine, as long as doctors — not government bureaucrats — make the medical decisions.
“Republicans have to step back from the words ‘death panels,’ ” Mr. Issa said. “Medical panels of people who care about what’s best for their patients … is good science and good medicine.”
Where was Issa when Palin whipped the Republican base into a frenzy over death panels? By not refuting Palin’s accusations during the poisonous healthcare reform debate, Issa may have undermined his own efforts to promote comparative effectiveness and cut Medicare spending.
And while it’s good to say doctors should make the medical decisions, doctors still are human beings influenced by people and money. Financial ties between medical device makers and doctors are a major reason why Issa feels physicians are overusing the orthopedic products he now rails against.