by Brendon Nafziger
, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 02, 2011
Only Newt Gingrich knows if he intends to run for president on the Republican ticket next year. But the former speaker of the House has entered the medical device price transparency wars with an op-ed calling for Congress to ban exclusivity agreements between device makers and hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid.
In a syndicated column last week, Gingrich said that the lack of price transparency for medical devices was contributing to the "insolvency" of the government-run health programs.
The potential 2012 presidential contender said medical devices, such as hip implants and stents, are one of the few areas of U.S. health care where the prices aren't publicly available, and that the federal government and consumers can't know if prices have been marked up "hundreds of percentage points."
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Medical device manufacturers often require hospitals to sign confidentiality agreements preventing them from revealing the price they paid for medical devices, Gingrich said, making "true price competition in the $153 billion medical-device marketplace impossible."
"Today we can shop -- often online -- and compare the price of a new car or a month's supply of blood pressure medication or a pair of blue jeans," Gingrich wrote. "We also, as health care consumers, can determine whether a generic drug or a brand name best serves our needs. But we are barred from comparing the quality, medical outcomes or price of an artificial hip or knee."
Gingrich, who is rumored to be announcing his presidential bid as early as this week, cited a 2009 report from the consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute that found hip implants cost 60 percent more in the United States than in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy because of the lack of pricing transparency.
A 2007 bill introduced by the Republican Senators Charles Grassley, from Iowa, and Arlen Specter, from Pennsylvania, that would have required makers of implantable devices to report sales data to the government, fizzled in Congress.
The call for price transparency comes as Gingrich, who founded the think tank the Center for Health Transformation, tries to position himself as something of a health care policy wonk. At a Brookings Institution talk on medical innovation a little over a week ago, Gingrich argued for finding ways to speed up getting advanced medical products to market, such as allowing the Food and Drug Administration to grant conditional approvals.