As in prior elections, medtech companies and industry groups are throwing their support and political action committee (PAC) dollars to a slate of incumbent senators running tough campaigns against their competitors this fall.
From Arizona to North Carolina, several of the Senate hopefuls in this year’s election have introduced bills to improve Medicare payments and advance use of telehealth, and helped put an end to the medical device tax late last year.
Cory Gardner Introduced Telehealth Innovation Bill
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, introduced S. 773 – the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act – earlier this year alongside Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). The bill would incentivize medtech companies to develop new remote-monitoring technologies. Gardner, who is running a very tight contest against former Colorado governor and Democrat John Hickenlooper, also helped repeal the device tax as part of a 2020 appropriations deal that passed Congress and was signed by President Trump last December.
“The tax hampered innovation for small businesses, and our collective ability to discover new medical breakthroughs,” Gardner said when repeal of the tax was announced last year.
Gardner received a total of $44,300 in campaign contributions from the PACs of Edwards Lifesciences ($10,000), Medtronic PLC ($10,000), BD ($4,000), AdvaMed ($16,300) and the Medical Device Manufacturers Association ($4,000) during the 2020 campaign cycle, according to figures gathered on 16 October by Medtech Insight from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets database.
Martha McSally Backed Medicare Pay For Breakthrough Devices
Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, another device industry supporter, introduced the Ensuring Patient Access To Critical Breakthrough Products Act of 2020 (S. 3914) in June.
The legislation helped put pressure on the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to start a program to shorten the timeline between approvals of breakthrough devices by the Food and Drug Administration, and their reimbursements by CMS under its Medicare Coverage of Innovative Technology (MCIT) initiative that was announced in late August. (Also see "CMS Directors Urge Industry To Weigh In On MCIT Innovative Tech Proposal" - Medtech Insight, 7 Oct, 2020.)
“This legislation would be another significant step forward in providing patient access to transformational medical technologies,” AdvaMed president and CEO Scott Whitaker said upon McSally’s announcement of the legislation.
The senator also supported expanded use of telehealth at Veterans Administration facilities in Arizona and cosigned a letter in June supported by more than half of all senators that called for permanent expansion of telehealth post-pandemic.
McSally was appointed to her seat by the state’s Republican governor after former Sen. Jon Kyl, another Republican, resigned in December 2018. She will have an uphill battle in a special election in November to retain her seat, as she faces the very popular and well financed former US astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat.
According to Open Secrets data, McSally has benefited from a combined $41,602 in campaign contributions from various PACs, including Edwards ($3,000), Boston Scientific Corp. ($4,000), Medtronic ($14,000), BD ($6,000) and AdvaMed ($14,602).
Thom Tillis Champions Medical Software Patents
Another supporter of the medtech industry running in a close Senate contest is Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Tillis has garnered device companies’ support by drafting legislation making it easier for tech firms to patent software – including medical-use software – reversing a trend set by a six-year-old Supreme Court case, Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International. (Also see "How A Pro-Software Patent Bill Could Affect The Medtech Industry" - Medtech Insight, 10 Jan, 2020.)
In May, the senator also introduced S. 3827, the Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act of 2020, a bill that would create incentives for manufacturers of medical supplies to increase their emergency stocks of items like tests, personal protective equipment and ventilators. The act would also diversify where such products are made.
Tillis faces Democrat opponent Cal Cunningham, a former state senator, in this year’s election. Cunningham leads Tillis in fundraising, but several entities through their PAC contributions have helped fund the senator, including Boston Scientific ($5,000), BD ($4,000) Baxter Healthcare ($2,500) and AdvaMed ($2,623), for a total of $14,123, Open Secrets data show.