By Joe Grogan
October 9, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
The American response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been an all-hands-on-deck collaboration between industry and government to respond to the greatest health crisis in our lifetimes.
The pharmaceutical industry garnered much of the media attention for its herculean effort to develop safe and effective COVID vaccines and antivirals. But another industry has been quietly and consistently delivering results: the medical technology industry.
When COVID hit, medtech rallied, scaling production and introducing new devices to deliver the best possible outcomes to patients. Innovators and manufacturers began running production around-the-clock to deliver masks, ventilators and tests. Test makers continue to introduce new diagnostic tools to help schools, businesses and health officials determine who was infected. This has been a warlike mobilization of the American workforce, creating health care heroes and tools to fight the pandemic.
As the former Trump White House director of domestic policy, I am not surprised that the medtech industry is producing results in the COVID battle. At the beginning of the administration, the industry — which has a large American jobs footprint and manufacturing base — proactively reached out in partnership. Sector leaders explained how smart policies and investments could build manufacturing capacity and spur American innovation – and on a bipartisan basis. With this promise in mind, this administration made an unprecedented commitment to advance medtech manufacturing. We worked with both parties to do it, understanding that device innovation would have a remarkable impact in the lives of patients.
Our signature effort was working closely with House and Senate leadership to end the medical device tax. This tax was part of the Obamacare legacy and was a job-killing, innovation-stifling tax on life-saving medical devices, including ventilators and other equipment needed to fight COVID-19. I don’t want to imagine an alternate reality in which we entered the pandemic with that tax hanging over the industry and stifling innovation. Our government was a massive burden on the innovators now being called upon to stop the spread and save lives.
Our partnership with medtech has also led to critical policy changes. We focused on coverage and reimbursement policy – vital to promoting innovative product development. Now we’re seeing real-life results: This month, the head of the agency overseeing Medicare – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma – set out to make never-before-seen medical technologies an even greater reality for Medicare beneficiaries. Prior to this initiative, seniors had to wait for CMS to make coverage decisions to access state-of-the-art medical devices that FDA had designated “breakthrough” technologies.
There typically are just a handful of Food and Drug Administration-designated breakthrough technologies approved each year, but those that make the cut are nothing short of amazing. Recent breakthroughs include a device that targets photoreceptors in the eye to help people with Parkinson’s disease, as well as a stimulator that sends electrical impulses to the tongue to stimulate the nerves connected to the brain to allow people with multiple sclerosis to walk. There are sequencing-based cancer diagnostics, new stents for people with heart disease and biodegradable implants to promote new tissue growth in people with joint damage. The list of breakthrough devices that sound like yesterday’s science fiction goes on and on.
Furthermore, we worked to reform outdated laws that prevented manufacturers from working hand-in-hand with medical providers to coordinate disease management. These efforts, spearheaded through Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan’s “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care,” have proposed to adjust well-intended fraud and abuse laws so that the health industry can better innovate. Incredibly, 70 bipartisan members of the House recently sent a letter encouraging these reforms.
The Trump administration’s pro-medical innovation plan is based on sound policy objectives and execution. Taxes that produce the wrong incentives should be abolished. CMS and FDA should coordinate their policy to provide better and quicker access to innovation. Doctors should be able to coordinate care with the technology that makes their care effective. Reimbursement policy should incentivize new technology. It’s all common sense – it takes leadership, and it takes a spirit of working together.
You may never hear about those advances in the news, but you will certainly see them in doctor’s offices and hospitals and clinics in the months and years to come. And at the end of the day, it’s patients who will win.
Joe Grogan is former White House director of domestic policy and adviser to President Donald Trump.
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