Around the world, ventilators—a life-saving medical device that keeps air flowing into the lungs of a patient who is unable to breathe—are a scarce resource in hospitals and clinics where they’re used to treat those infected with the COVID-19 virus.
The machines are expensive, complex, and they take a long time to make. They’re also produced by only a handful of manufacturers, among them Medtronic, a medical equipment company that specializes in such devices. In response to the pandemic, the company has agreed to nearly double its production capacity, and recently offered to share its ventilator technology with other companies in order to accelerate production.
But if the antitrust laws regulating mergers and acquisitions by the Federal Trade Commission had been more stringent a few years ago, says economist John Kwoka, there wouldn’t be such a limited number of suppliers dominating the ventilator market, which as a result has left us vulnerable to a shortage during a public health emergency.