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U.S. hospitals pay as much as 6 times more for medical devices than European counterparts, study shows

Prices for devices varied within each country studied as well, except for France where prices stayed largely uniform for all devices.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Cardiac implant device prices are up to six times higher in the United States than in Germany, Italy, France and the UK, according to a new study from Health Affairs.

WHY IT MATTERS

The global medical device market was estimated to be worth $370 billion in 2015, roughly half the size of the prescription drug market at $740 billion. The US is the largest national device market worldwide, while the other four countries are the largest European markets, and cardiac devices account for a large share of the device market.

THE TREND

While price differences between countries were significant across most device categories and years, they were estimated to be highest in the US, The differences between the US and other countries was shown to be significant in nearly all device categories and years.

As an example, mean prices for drug-eluting stents in the US consistently outpaced prices in Germany by roughly $1,000 throughout the study period.

Overall, Germany had the lowest prices for all devices considered, except pacemakers.

Additionally, prices for devices varied within each country studied, except for France where prices stayed largely uniform.

ON THE RECORD

"Variation within countries suggests that manufacturers exploit varying levels of willingness-to-pay and bargaining power between buyers to charge different prices across hospitals and increase profits," researchers wrote.

THEIR TAKE

A major reason for undertaking this study was that little is known about how medical device prices compare between high-income countries. That's because purchase prices are commonly understood to be confidential, and are often the result of negotiations between manufacturers and individual hospitals, group purchasing organizations, or health care payers. This confidentiality means manufacturers can increase profits by charging different prices to different buyers, and the buyer's ability to control the price they pay hinges on their bargaining power. Manufacturers can also wield significant market power.
Physicians in hospitals also play a role in a number of ways, including apathy about the price of a device or basing their preferences on familiarity with a particular model or preference for manufacturer.

"These relationships are sometimes supported by financial inducements through consulting contracts or speaking honoraria, which generate loyalty and may make it difficult for hospitals to switch suppliers," researchers said.

Researchers from the London School of Economics used data from the Marketrack hospital surveys conducted by the Millenium Research Group, now Decisions Resources Group. The data used ranged from 2006-2014.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

 

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