Lawmaker’s Silly Season No Laughing Matter For Device Industry

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Michael Causey, Editor & Publisher,

Predicting things on Capitol Hill is never easy, especially as the election campaign “silly season” enters the picture, but it’s beginning to look like medical device companies should expect heavier regulation in 2012 – and that will only increase if President Obama is reelected in November.

The climate is not great for medical device firms, who are always one recall away from increased scrutiny. Add to that a recent poll from Consumer Reports that says the public wants more medical device regulation and less risk.

The poll was released just as House and Senate Committees have issued draft legislation to reauthorize the statute governing medical devices and at a time when the FDA’s process for reviewing new implants has come under intense criticism.

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee’s draft bill would significantly weaken device safety oversight and should be rejected by Congress, according to Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. While the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s draft bill provides some additional protections for patients once devices are on the market, it misses the opportunity to enact a clear process for preventing unsafe devices from being sold in the first place, the consumer group claims.

X-ray of hip“Recent problems with metal hip implants and surgical mesh have shown how our current system fails to ensure medical devices are safe and effective,” said Lisa Swirsky, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Unfortunately, the House bill weakens current standards to speed up device approvals rather than improving safety oversight. The Senate bill offers some improvements but it should be strengthened to require stricter safety testing of new implants and life sustaining devices. Congress should recognize that the public is far more concerned about making sure devices are safe and work than how quickly they are made available.”

Consumers Union says the medical device industry has been pushing Congress to scale back oversight of implants and other devices, which it claims is necessary to promote innovation and make it easier to get new devices approved. But according to the new Consumer Reports poll, 82 percent of Americans believe that preventing safety problems is more important than limiting safety testing in order to prevent delays and encourage innovation.

In his FDA Matters blog Steven Grossman advises us not to take our eyes off the User Fee Authorization Process in 2012, which must be renewed by Sept 30.

Grossman sees three levels to watch: “ the MDUFA reauthorization itself including FDA-industry agreement on goals for the review process; a core of changes to the medical device review process that have consensus support, but not necessarily agreed-upon legislative language; and a group of more far-reaching changes to the medical device review process that are considered controversial.”

“There will be continued efforts to rollback or repeal the device tax imposed by the health reform act,” he also tells us.

Watch this space for more updates as the silly season gears up.


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