WASHINGTON — Congress has restarted its effort to exempt biomaterials suppliers from liability for medical implant failures, a push that legislators and industry lobbyists predict stands a better chance of success than last year's stalled attempts.
The Biomaterials Access Assurance Act of 1997 is needed, supporters say, because ``deep-pocketed'' suppliers of plastics and other materials for medical devices are withdrawing materials from the market in the face of costly lawsuits when the device, but not the material, fails.
This latest push, announced by several congressional supporters Feb. 26, has one significant new provision designed to give a political boost: It would not exempt suppliers of breast implant materials. That provision is needed because the legislation would not get support otherwise, said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Last year's effort failed because it was part of a larger product liability proposal vetoed for unrelated reasons by President Clinton, although Clinton did express support for the biomaterials provision in his veto message. Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., then introduced a free-standing measure in the House but it failed to pass before Congress adjourned.
The new bill would exempt raw materials suppliers unless they make or sell the implants or furnish materials that do not meet specifications, Gekas said.
The proposals stand a good chance of becoming law because previous versions have had support from Congress and the White House, said Jerome Heckman, general counsel of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.