ECRI, a medical products testing organization, is suing Guidant to publish comparisons of prices paid by hospitals for medical devices. ECRI is asserting its right under the First Amendment and is asking the Federal District Court in Pennsylvania to rule on whether ECRI can reject Guidant's claim that publication of the prices hospitals pay for its products is forbidden.
Guidant in 2004 sued Englewood, Colo.-based Aspen Healthcare Metrics, a hospital consulting firm, charging that Aspen illegally gathered confidential Guidant price data.
Aspen said in court papers that the devicemaker gave physicians "clinical research grants, consulting arrangements and other gratuities" to keep them loyal to the company's brands. Providing such inducements to doctors can be illegal under federal law.
Both companies have denied each other's claims.
"What makes Guidant unique is that they are taking people to court to enforce these [confidential data-pricing policies]," said Jeffrey Lerner, ECRI president and CEO. "They are the only ones who've gone to court, as far as we know."
ECRI has been publishing its price comparisons of medical devices since 1996, said Lerner. "We are suing to say that we should be able to do what we've been doing even prior to the Guidant policy being established."
The healthcare community must be able to engage in comparative shopping based on the safety, performance and cost of medical products, says ECRI. If Guidant succeeds in enforcing its policy, other manufacturers will follow its lead, undermining efforts to contain costs and ensure product safety, the group believes.
The Guidant policy conflicts with the current push for price transparency, according to Lerner. "It would be very interesting to know what the motivation for the [Guidant] policy is, because it swims against industry practice," he noted.