I have been watching and reading as the United Healthcare / Medtronic story has unfolded in the US this past week. While I am following from the relative safety of a European health care system where deals like this cannot happen, I realise that all people with diabetes are potentially impacted by this deal.
This is not the first time I have witnessed Medtronic muscle its way into losing less market share. I remember the shock of Smith Medical’s announcement in March 2009 that they were withdrawing the Cozmo pump from the market and leaving the insulin pump business altogether. It made no sense to me that the most advanced and most “personalizable” pump on the market was disappearing. That is, until the story came out that Medtronic had essentially sued them out of business for patent infringement.
The details of the law suit are unknown to me but I do know that competition from smaller companies improves everyone’s products. The people who should benefit from advancements in these devices are first and foremost the users, not just company shareholders. If an insurance company or medical device company’s first priority isn’t improving patients’ health and quality of life, they are doing it wrong!!
I was lucky enough to have the choice to stick with my Cozmo long after it was pulled from the market because of the way pumps are provided to patients in France. And stick with it I did, because the other pumps I could choose from did not meet my needs in the same way that Cozmo did. For many years there have only been 3 pumps on the market in France but suddenly (as of last month) there are 3 new ones to choose from. In order to choose a pump that actually fits my needs, I have chosen, with the support and encouragement of my endocrinologist, to try out all three of them.
As I have said, I am privileged to live in a country where I have choice in the devices I use to manage my diabetes. That choice should not be dictated by deals that inflate bottom lines for payers and manufacturers. It should be (and for me, thankfully, is) between me and my health care provider.
There are some really exciting developments in diabetes devices that should be hitting the market over the next few years. Most of these are from smaller, as of yet non-profitable companies. If the 800 pound gorilla comes and squashes the smaller, more nimble initiatives, it’s people with diabetes globally who lose out, not only those unlucky enough to have an insurance company who doesn’t believe in providing their customers with a range products to fit their individual needs.