GAO report spurs calls for medical device price transparency

The GAO report found:

• Substantial variation in the prices hospitals paid for the same type of device;

• Concerns that hospitals — especially ones with less bargaining power — aren't getting the best price possible;

• Possible repercussions on the federal Medicare program; and

• Confidentiality clauses that bar hospitals from sharing price information with physicians, making it difficult for physicians to make fully informed decisions.

"The GAO report confirms what … anyone on the front lines of patient care and healthcare cost containment see every day," Curtis Rooney, president of the Healthcare Supply Chain Association, said in a statement. "Medical device pricing secrecy decreases competition, limits the ability of hospitals … to effectively negotiate for medical products and services, and artificially drives up healthcare costs, leaving hospitals, Medicare and American taxpayers to foot the bill."

The medical device industry said the GAO only looked at a small set of devices and that its conclusions aren't generalizable, making it "inappropriate to draw any public policy conclusions from this report."

"A full understanding of medical technology pricing ought to take into account the remarkably competitive nature of the industry," David Nexon, the senior executive vice president of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), said in a statement. "For example, a study done by the former chief actuary for Medicare shows that over the past 20 years, medical device prices have risen far more slowly than price increases for other medical goods and services and substantially less than even general price increases in the economy as a whole. More broadly, the highly competitive nature of the device and diagnostic industry ensures that medical technology provides very good value for the health care system."