Reduce the medical device tax on devices for diabetes

The medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine recently published a study finding that insulin-related hypoglycemia and errors resulted in nearly 100,000 emergency-department visits a year in America.  A recent study from the National Institute of Health that estimated Emergency Department visits cost on average $2,000. Eliminating this quarter-billion dollar cost is a matter of getting the right medical devices in the hands of diabetics.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 3 of U.S. children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.  First Lady Michelle Obama has remarked the “health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake." 

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There is, unfortunately, no silver bullet for reducing the rate of diabetes among the next generation and in addition to following the first lady’s efforts to guide Americans toward healthier lifestyles, America needs to do what it can to improve the quality of life for those already afflicted.  This includes creating a better regulatory and tax environment producing products that help those afflicted with diabetes.

Any strategy aimed at dealing with the diabetes epidemic must focus on how to help the afflicted better manage the disease in order to prevent or delay costly complications, such as nephropathy, neuropathy and retinopathy. Almost half of the estimated direct medical costs for diabetes in the US are attributed to treating complications from the disease, of which Emergency Department visits only accounts for a small portion.

It is widely understood that the best way to manage diabetes is to maintain tight blood glucose control.  One of the silver linings to this epidemic is how rapidly over the past ten years the quality, safety, convenience, and availability of diabetes treatment has improved. 

In 2004, most glucometers required 5 microliters of blood for the meter to return a reading. If your finger did not produce enough blood, another area would need to be pricked. With this amount of pain and work required, even the most motivated patient could become incompliant and increase their risk in co-morbidities. Without internal memories, patients wrote their readings in a journal and reviewed with their doctor what all those inaccurate numbers meant.  The cumbersome nature of this process meant that fewer patients tested.

Today, diabetes sufferers can use glucose monitors linked to an iPhone app, requiring as little blood as .32 microliters, wirelessly coordinate data.  Other technological advances include “patch” pumps such as the disposable Omnipod that can be worn discretely and managed wirelessly through a device that looks similar to a smartphone.  Integrated continuous feedback loops between glucose monitors and insulin pumps allow constant visibility for the wearer into the necessary dosage of insulin, as close to an artificial pancreas as we have.

Further research has shown even more promising blood glucose management options, such as a contact lens that can monitor glucose levels in tears, potentially with the capability to close the feedback loop to insulin pumps and corresponding medical devices without a finger prick.

These advances should never be viewed outside of their context.  The only reason companies have invested in the research resulting in these innovations is the worsening health crisis.  In a perfectly healthy world, we there would be no market for these miracle devices.

Our world is, however, not perfectly healthy.  It also isn’t perfectly regulated and there are still obstacles that dissuade companies from investing in solving this crisis.  These obstacles include the medical device tax a cost that is ultimately borne by consumers and directly impacts funds available for companies to invest in research and development. 

Reducing or eliminating the medical device tax for devices specifically designed to improve the health of those suffering from diabetes will increase the money that that diabetes-focused companies are able to invest into future research.  Lessening the debilitating effects of diabetes is just as urgent a priority as stemming the rise of obesity.

Colangelo is executive director of Consumers’ Research.  Consumers’ Research was founded in 1929 as a product testing and consumer advocacy organization and publishes a bi-monthly magazine on consumer topics.