Congress Will Consider National Right-to-Repair Legislation for Medical Equipment

The "Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020" is the first time Congress has ever considered a bill that would break manufacturer repair monopolies.
August 6, 2020, 1:00pm
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Image: iFixit

Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Yvette D. Clark have introduced right to repair legislation in the Senate and the House that would make it easier for hospitals to fix medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the first time that right to repair legislation has ever been introduced at the federal level and is a historic step for the movement, which seeks to break manufacturer monopolies on servicing of electronics of all types.

The Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020 would protect owners from prosecution if they made a copy of service parts or broke a digital lock while repairing equipment, allow users to make their own substitute parts, and require manufacturers to provide owners access to information and tools to repair equipment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed America’s health system to the limit, and critical medical equipment has been almost impossible to legally repair because manufacturers enjoy a monopoly on tools, documentation, and replacement parts

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Critically, the Wyden/Clark legislation also overrides service agreements that manufacturers require hospitals to sign that prevents them from working on their own equipment, such as ventilators. As Motherboard has previously reported, hospitals around the country have faced logistical problems and while trying to repair ventilators during the pandemic. Some repair professionals have resorted to making DIY parts and finding service software on the grey market in order to provide critical, lifesaving equipment to patients.

"I've talked to over a hundred professional medical device repairers—all they want is to be able to fix broken equipment and protect the patients in their hospitals. COVID-19 is making all they do harder, and this bill helps them get their job done,” Kevin O’Reilly, an advocate at US PIRG’s Right to Repair Campaign, said in an email. 

"There is no reason we should tolerate manufacturers putting their own proprietary concerns over patient safety—especially during the pandemic,” O’Reilly said. “Passing this bill is an easy, common-sense way for the Senate to help hospitals in their time of need, but a permanent solution is still needed."

According to Wyden’s office, “nothing in this bill would exempt health care providers or technicians from compliance with the safety standards set forth by the FDA or other relevant agencies.” The legislation is supported by a number of organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American College of Clinical Engineering.

Right to Repair advocates have been successful in getting states to introduce legislation that would make it easier to repair electronics of all types, but have faced strong lobbying opposition from manufacturers, including Apple, GE, John Deere, and Microsoft. This is the first time such legislation has been introduced at a federal level, and should have at least two high-profile supporters in Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both of whom put a version of right to repair on their presidential campaign platforms.