Medicare Provision Aided by Staff Trip to Europe

Posted November 17, 2003 at 6:43pm

Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and other U.S. makers of cutting-edge medical technology paid for some of their top Capitol Hill allies to take an expensive tour of manufacturing plants in Belgium and Switzerland even as lawmakers worked to keep a provision in the upcoming Medicare-reform bill that would be a boon to the industry.

According to travel disclosure forms, senior aides to Reps. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and several other key staffers attended the eight-day European tour during the August recess that cost the companies $4,500 per person.

The tab for the trip was picked up by the Advanced Medical Technology Association, known as AdvaMed, which represents companies that dominate the $75 billion U.S. market for health care technology. Members of the Washington trade association include Bausch & Lomb, Bayer, Boston Scientific, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Dow Corning, Eastman Kodak and Johnson & Johnson.

On Capitol Hill, Ramstad, Eshoo and Pitts led the charge to include language in the final Medicare package that would reduce the amount of time from when the government approves new medical technology and devices and when Medicare begins reimbursing patients.

The final version of the legislation, agreed to last weekend, includes many of the industry’s requests.

“We are confident that a lot of our provisions will be in there,” said Blair Childs, executive vice president of AdvaMed.

Earlier this year, Ramstad, Eshoo and Pitts introduced a bill supported by the industry that would reduce the years-long period for Medicare to agree to subsidize the latest in medical technology and devices, such as the cardiac defibrillator implanted in Vice President Cheney’s chest.

In July, just a month before the staffers’ trip, Ramstad, Eshoo and Pitts rounded up nearly three dozen Members to sign a letter urging Republican leaders to fight for the provision in House-Senate negotiations on the final bill.

“Serious delays exist in the time it takes Medicare to make new medical technologies and procedures available to beneficiaries,” the lawmakers wrote on July 23.

As co-sponsors of the legislation, “we request that conferees adopt key elements of our bill that were included in the House and Senate Medicare bills in any final Medicare package,” added Ramstad, Eshoo and Pitts.

Four weeks later, top health care aides to Ramstad, Eshoo and Pitts joined other Congressional staffers on a flight to Brussels, Belgium, and Geneva, Switzerland, for the industry tour.

Also making the trip were aides to Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) — who sponsored the Senate version of the industry-backed legislation — as well as staffers for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Ways and Means ranking member Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

According to recently released travel documents, the companies spent about $1,400 on airfare, $2,100 on lodging and $1,000 on meals and other expenses for each staffer.

The trip was paid for by AdvaMed, the world’s largest medical technology association representing 1,100 inventors and manufacturers of medical devices and diagnostic products.

AdvaMed officials and Capitol Hill aides who took part in the trip declined to provide a detailed itinerary of the journey.

When pressed for information about the trade group’s legislative goals, AdvaMed’s Childs forwarded a two-page summary of the industry’s concerns with the lengthy period it often takes Medicare administrators to agree to help Americans defray the costs of new medical technology.

He also provided the July 23 letter sent by Ramstad, Eshoo and Pitts.

In several cases, AdvaMed’s talking points and the letter from the House Members matched word for word.

Both documents said that “serious delays exist in the time it takes Medicare to make new medical technologies and procedures available to beneficiaries. In fact, Medicare delays can total from 15 months to five years or more.”

For example, the Food and Drug Administration has approved new imaging technology that can scan the human body at a molecular level to help spot cancer cells.

Though the technology has been available for a decade, the association said it is not yet fully covered by Medicare.

“It’s a very slow process,” said Childs. “We are trying to speed that process.”