(p. A15) As people age, the main valve controlling the flow of blood out of the heart can narrow, causing heart failure, and sometimes death. In the past the only way to repair the damage was risky open-heart surgery. But an ingenious medical device now allows the heart to be repaired using a catheter that introduces a replacement valve through a main artery in the leg--another miracle of modern medicine.
In 2011, more than four years after they hit the European market, the Food and Drug Administration finally approved aortic heart valves for use in the U.S. The total cost of the new procedure is about the same as open-heart surgery. But government bureaucrats feared that the new replacement valve's lower risks and easier administration would mean that many more elderly patients would seek to fix their failing heart valves, pushing up Medicare's total spending. To limit their use, regulators created coverage rules based on a set of strained medical criteria. It was a budget prerogative masquerading as clinical reasoning.
This episode is a vivid example of the government's increasing practice to regulate medicine and ration care. A series of landmark studies published earlier this month in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago, makes clear how contrived the original Medicare guidelines were.
For a patient to be qualified for the aortic valve device, Medicare required two cardiac surgeons to certify first that a patient wasn't a candidate for the open-heart repair. Also mandated was the presence of a cardiothoracic surgeon and an interventional cardiologist in the operating room during the procedure.
For the full commentary, see:
SCOTT GOTTLIEB. "Warning: Medicare May Be Bad for Your Heart; Aortic valve replacements are superior to open-heart surgery and less risky. So why are they hard to get?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 12, 2016): A15.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 11, 2016.)
The Lancet article mentioned above, is:
Thourani, Vinod H., Susheel Kodali, Raj R. Makkar, Howard C. Herrmann, Mathew Williams, Vasilis Babaliaros, Richard Smalling, Scott Lim, S. Chris Malaisrie, Samir Kapadia, Wilson Y. Szeto, Kevin L. Greason, Dean Kereiakes, Gorav Ailawadi, Brian K. Whisenant, Chandan Devireddy, Jonathon Leipsic, Rebecca T. Hahn, Philippe Pibarot, Neil J. Weissman, Wael A. Jaber, David J. Cohen, Rakesh Suri, E. Murat Tuzcu, Lars G. Svensson, John G. Webb, Jeffrey W. Moses, Michael J. Mack, D. Craig Miller, Craig R. Smith, Maria C. Alu, Rupa Parvataneni, Ralph B. D'Agostino, Jr., and Martin B. Leon. "Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Versus Surgical Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients: A Propensity Score Analysis." The Lancet (April 3, 2016), DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30073-3.
The New England Journal of Medicine article mentioned above, is:
Leon, Martin B., Craig R. Smith, Michael J. Mack, Raj R. Makkar, Lars G. Svensson, Susheel K. Kodali, Vinod H. Thourani, E. Murat Tuzcu, D. Craig Miller, Howard C. Herrmann, Darshan Doshi, David J. Cohen, Augusto D. Pichard, Samir Kapadia, Todd Dewey, Vasilis Babaliaros, Wilson Y. Szeto, Mathew R. Williams, Dean Kereiakes, Alan Zajarias, Kevin L. Greason, Brian K. Whisenant, Robert W. Hodson, Jeffrey W. Moses, Alfredo Trento, David L. Brown, William F. Fearon, Philippe Pibarot, Rebecca T. Hahn, Wael A. Jaber, William N. Anderson, Maria C. Alu, and John G. Webb. "Transcatheter or Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients." New England Journal of Medicine (April 2, 2016), DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1514616.