Tag Archives: Medtronic

What’s Next?

Like you probably did, I read Kerri Sparling’s blog post about how she’s still unhappy that nothing has happened since the United Healthcare/Medtronic Diabetes dustup. Like her, I can sense the dust settling at this point, and I wonder if anything meaningful will come of all our vitriol just a month ago.

I’ve thought about this from time to time since the announcement was made back in May, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some things I know, and some things I don’t know about all of this. While we know the issue, and what’s at stake, we all undoubtedly feel a sense of resignation, that “this is how business works and there’s not much we can do about it”.

Well, that may be true. Maybe there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t think it’s that simple though. I do know that if we’re going to turn the tide of businesses trying to rule our access to tools designed to help us be as healthy as possible, certain things need to happen. In no certain order, here are just four of those things.


Holes need to be poked in this arrangement. I’ll bet you can state one or two things that are wrong about this business deal right off the top of your head. We need to find more things that are wrong with this, and point them out, over and over again, to anyone who will listen. We need to find out things that are wrong about the businesses and the people running those businesses that are wrong. I’m not advocating personal attacks, of course. But is there a track record here that needs to be noted? Maybe an indicator of what’s to come based on similar tactics these companies/people have employed in the past? And we need to keep hammering those points home. In the current business climate in the USA, these people already know that they can get away with making arrangements that only suit themselves and not patients. We need to make it uncomfortable for them to do so. As uncomfortable as possible, even if it’s one blog post at a time, one insurance claim at a time, one protest at a time, one person standing up and stating what is right. We cannot let injustices go without standing up and pointing them out. Over and over again.

Tweak the message. Why do you think JDRF gets such big dollars for research? Let me ask you another question: do you ever see someone like me in JDRF literature? Of course you don’t. That’s because even though I have the same disease as a cute ten year old, time and again people will react positively to the message that a child doesn’t deserve to live with this, even if I’ve been living with it for at least fifteen years longer.

Okay, I’m a little off topic here, so let me bring it back to the issue at hand. Anger is good… it gets our blood flowing, it’s often the catalyst for developing platforms for change. But if you can’t tell a story, a compelling story, a heart wrenching story about why all patients need access to the best care and drugs and devices, people are going to question why they should care. This is where I’m at a disadvantage. I’m good at telling you what’s happened, but I’m not always good at making it overwhelmingly compelling. But I know I need to do that. We need to turn our outward message of anger into inward concern for actual people. And quickly.

These companies need to be hurt where it counts– in the financials. Sorry to be the one to tell it so bluntly. But let’s face it: by and large, as long as company execs are getting their bonuses, they really don’t care about you or I. This deal falls apart when it no longer makes financial sense, from either a corporate or a personal point of view, for it to continue. I don’t know if that means we find a legal way to keep them in court fighting for their stupid deal (and fund the fight), or if that means we encourage a boycott of United Healthcare and Medtronic for years to come, or if it means that we encourage patients to find ways to make United Healthcare pay more in claims under this agreement (which they would fight). But when the money is no longer there for this deal, there will be no reason for it to continue.

Relentlessness. Do you think The CEO of United Health Group, or the President of Medtronic Diabetes are actually thinking about any of this anymore? They’re not. Of course they’re not. They knew that there would probably be an initial reaction. They knew that the initial reaction would probably die down. Now they’re just going on with their lives like nothing ever happened. You’re just a dollar sign… you’re not a person to them.

I’m not a big believer in the fact that everything needs a coordinated effort to accomplish a big goal. But here’s one instance where a little coordination could come in handy. I’ll give you an example: sit-ins at lunch counters in the south back in the 60s. White authorities were sure that all that was needed was to arrest the African-Americans sitting at the segregated lunch counter, and it would all be over. But as soon as the initial protesters were arrested, new protesters immediately came forward and sat down in their place. Authorities only thought there were a few protesters… they didn’t count on many, showing up over and over again. That’s what we need.

As a community, our initial reaction to all of this was wonderful, and creative, and even inspiring. But now there’s nothing. A coordinated effort that has one person writing about it this week, another meeting with their elected officials the next week, bombarding state insurance commissioners the following week– that’s how we start to chip away at the wall that’s been built between business and patients. Little by little, over and over, never giving up, until we either force an end to this type of practice or make it unsatisfying for companies to engage in this kind of behavior in the first place.


As U.S. citizens, we believe in our original Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, which promote the idea of choice as a basic right for all people. Those documents don’t say anything about the right to squeeze out as much profit as possible, or that doing so at any cost to patients is okay.

I don’t have a great plan, or anything nearing all the answers. But I do know that the one thing we can do, all of us, is continue to assert that our human right to choose is the most important message in this debate. You think this collaboration between UHC and Medtronic fosters innovation? I don’t care if it does… it destroys my right to choose (and it doesn’t foster innovation– quite the opposite). You think it gives patients a best-in-class platform to manage their diabetes? I don’t care… it destroys my right to choose, today and in the future, so if a better product becomes available, I might be unable to choose it. You think having a “clinical exception process” in place for people who want to choose a different option actually proves you’re still allowing choice? You’re wrong… it destroys my right to choose, and it gives other greedy businesses a template for denying choice, and I’m not okay with that.

This attitude needs to be here, on the faces of the Diabetes Community, in every interaction with these entities, until policies like this are a thing of the past. They’re only trying to get everything they can. I’m fighting for what I want too, and what I want is more important. And I am not ashamed to say so. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Choice Is Necessary.

United Healthcare has decided that, as of July 1, adult patients with diabetes on certain UHC insurance plans who want insulin pump therapy should only be allowed to choose a Medtronic insulin pump. Hat tip to DiabetesMine for breaking the news.

There’s a lot more to it than just that one sentence, and obviously, people have a lot of questions.

Let me first say this: people who work for medical device makers and insurance companies are actual people, and they have families and concerns of their own, so I don’t think it’s fair to equate companies and their practices with the people who work hard for them every day.

That said, it’s really hard to find anything good in this discovery. Let’s be honest, okay? There is nothing good in this discovery. It is only benefitting those implementing the rule, and only harming those affected by the rule.

There was some explanation from United Healthcare about why they’re going down this road, and it’s a ridiculously weak argument. You can come to your own conclusions about it after you read what they have to say about it. But my take is that they’re not even trying to give a good explanation for this. Medtronic, for their part, has remained silent.

Did UHC get something for making Medtronic an exclusive provider? Or are they just being lazy, deciding they don’t want to keep up on all of the insulin pump manufacturers out there? Is Medtronic out there trying to cut similar deals with other insurance companies? Does this put pressure on other device makers to try and secure their own piece of the pie? Most of all: What if an actual artificial pancreas solution is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it’s not a Medtronic solution? Does that leave UHC patients out in the cold?

I’m not even going to try to answer those questions. They’re not important. They just don’t matter.

Because any way you slice it, this is bad news for People With Diabetes.

United Health Group, parent company of United Healthcare, has this as their mission statement:
“We seek to enhance the performance of the health system and improve the overall health and well-being of the people we serve and their communities.”

“We work with health care professionals and other key partners to expand access to quality health care so people get the care they need at an affordable price.”

“We support the physician/patient relationship and empower people with the information, guidance, and tools they need to make personal health choices and decisions.”
It appears that the latest about this exclusivity arrangement shows UHC’s mission statement to be rather disingenuous. In fact, it looks like they just took a giant shit all over it and its claims to “expand access to quality health care so people get the care they need at an affordable price”.

Reducing Eliminating choice for patients is wrong, it reduces innovation, and in no way does it “improve the overall health and well-being” of People With Diabetes, or even save them money.

I’m going to start saying something, and I’m going to repeat it any time someone asks me why something like this is a big deal.

Choice isn’t just important… choice is necessary.

Companies love to talk about how competition is good for the marketplace, good for consumers. Apparently, it’s not good enough for United Healthcare, because they just turned a fire hose on the idea of competition. You know, there are studies that show People With Diabetes do better when they have more information, more tools, and yes, better tools to help them manage their condition. I can’t find a single shred of evidence anywhere that says removing choices for patients with a chronic condition helps them live better lives.

You are wrong, United Healthcare. You’ve made a decision that only benefits you, and does not ensure even one better outcome for any of your patients. You are wrong, and I will keep telling your rotten story to as many people as I can. Including my elected officials, and news agencies.

For my part, I wish I would have had access to this information when I visited Medtronic a couple of weeks ago. The upper echelons of Medtronic Diabetes management was there that day, and someone must have known that this decision was imminent. But they didn’t share it with any of the advocates in the room. I would have liked to have asked questions and share my view directly with Medtronic brass that day.

Just as there are actual people working for these two organizations, there are actual People With Diabetes insured by UHC. And those people deserve and are entitled to choices when it comes to how they manage their diabetes. Patient trumps proprietary. And it always will.

Medtronic Diabetes Advocate Forum.

Full disclosure: Medtronic paid for my travel, hotel, and meals so I could attend this event. All thoughts, on all media, are my own and are never for sale.

I was fortunate enough to attend the latest Medtronic Diabetes Advocate Forum last week in Los Angeles, California. To be honest, it was pretty short on advocacy and long on Medtronic.

But I look at it this way: first, we did come up with a couple of good advocacy ideas (and by we, I mean someone other than me). I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder, so I won’t reveal anything yet. But watch this space for more later. Second, if I was told ahead of time that I would get a chance to interact directly with top leaders at Medtronic Diabetes, I would have said yes anyway.

So, while it wasn’t exactlly what I expected, it was definitely worth the trip.

What did I learn? I learned that Medtronic Diabetes went through a change about a year and a half back. They have some newer people and newer roles, and they are now looking at what they do through a different lens. That includes a new mission statement:

Transforming Diabetes Care Together
for Greater Freedom and Better Health

Every presentation from every person we talked to revolved around the tenets of the mission statement. Here are some of the things I heard:

From Louis Dias, Chief Patient Officer: “In order to transform patient lives, it’s important to keep patient stories in mind so we can transform ourselves.”

From Alejandro Galindo, President, Intensive Insulin Management: “No two diabetes journeys are the same, but they could all be a little better.”

From Annette Bruls, President, Diabetes Service and Solutions: “Medtronic’s next generation solutions seek to answer the questions How have I been doing? How will I be doing? What should I be doing?”

From Hiten Chawla, Senior Director of Marketing, Non Intensive Diabetes Therapies: “We’re working on solutions to improve disease understanding, management, and outcomes for Type 2s and those with pre-diabetes.”

From Hooman Hakami, Executive Vice President and President, Medtronic Diabetes: “We plan to add 19 million more patients by 2020.” (side note: I was assured later that this does not mean 19 million more pumpers, but rather 19 million more patients’ lives improved through Medtronic efforts in the next four years)

There was a lot more, including a panel discussion over lunch that included everyone mentioned above, plus Dr. Francine Kaufman.

Throughout the day, I was impressed by all of the attendees, including the ones from outside the USA. I was encouraged that at the times they needed to, people were able to speak in their own languages and be heard and communicated with in their own languages. It wasn’t always loving. There were some difficult questions, but never a dull moment.

There were a few questions I wish I’d have asked. I’ve gone back and asked them since. How much is Medtronic paying IBM to use Watson’s supercomputing power to crunch data? And what kind of data is being crunched? Is it just data uploaded to CareLink? Is it all data uploaded to CareLink, for all pump and CGM configurations, or just some? I’ll let you know what the answers are.

You can probably tell from the statements above that everyone there is drinking the Kool Aid. Which is good, if you want to actually accomplish the goals you set for your company. I’m also jaded enough to know that it’s really rare that everyone is on board with the mission. And I know that regardless of how the mission looks today, changes will be made over the next few years. That’s the way it goes in business. To stay relevant, you adapt. Anyway, I like what I’m hearing so far.

I must give special thank yous to Amanda Sheldon, Senior Director of Global Content Strategy; Karrie Hawbaker, Senior Manager, Social Media; and Naomi Ruperto, Social Media Community Manager. They went out of their way and then some to make attendees feel welcome, answer questions, and take on a couple of tough issues of their own.

So while it wasn’t all-advocacy-all-the-time, the Medtronic Diabetes Advocate Forum packed a lot of information into a short time frame. Let’s watch together to see how they deliver on the message of transforming diabetes care together for greater freedom and better health. If they pull it off, we’ll all be better for it.

Golden Ticket!

You may have seen this already… but just in case you haven’t, take note:

Thanks to Medtronic there is an extra ticket, including travel expenses, available to the two-day MasterLab advocacy workshop in Orlando in just about two weeks.
So… for all of you who ask, “How come the same people always go to these events?”… Heeeeere’s your chance.

Even though I already promised I wouldn’t apply for any scholarships this year (I won’t go into that again), I almost jumped in on this too. But in the end, it seemed too much like a scholarship, and I want to be true to my promise to give someone else a chance this year.

Do you want to go? CLICK HERE for the link to the short survey. There’s a lot to read, and you have to be ready to travel if selected, but what an opportunity!

You have until Sunday, June 28 to submit your responses. After that, no complaining, okay?

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: MasterLab was an transformative experience for me, and it can be for you too.

Last year was just a day. This year, two days, July 7 and 8. Learn… grow… experience… MasterLab.

I will soooo miss being there. I will be thrilled for you if you are there holding the golden ticket.

%d bloggers like this: