You break it, Medicare buys it—and we all pay

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 - Nick Leider
Nick Leider

In the past 10 years, Medicare has spent more than $1.5 billion in replacing seven types of defective heart devices, according to the HHS Office of the Inspector General. The same report said patients dished out $140 million in out-of-pocket costs.

Considering so much money is spent on cleaning up failed devices, what can be done? Or are such incidents, impacting some 73,000 patients, the cost of doing business?

Medical device recalls nearly doubled in the decade prior to 2012, according to a Kaiser Health News story. Though many recalls were voluntary actions from manufacturers, some argue hospitals should be required to report malfunctions when they seek Medicare payments.

The earlier a problem is identified, the sooner it can be remedied, so the thinking goes.

But some physicians and device companies argue such reporting regulations will only increase overall costs by making claims that much more complex without any proof of improvement.

“It is abundantly clear that data collected in electronic health records (EHR) is a far superior and more cost-effective method for monitoring the performance of medical devices,” Mark Leahey, who heads the Medical Device Manufacturers Association told Kaiser Health News.

The counterpoint: You broke it, so why should Medicare—and, by extension, the American taxpayer—buy it?

“Medicare is spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t seem to be their problem,” said Rita Redberg, a University of California, San Francisco professor and cardiologist who advises Medicare. “Most places, if something is defective, the manufacturer is responsible for replacing it, not the store where you bought it.”

Discussing healthcare in such basic economic terms isn’t always helpful, but in this situation, the bill is due and nobody wants to open their wallet.