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Medela Confirms Quiet Phase-Out of Insurance-Issued Double Breast Pump

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Big news for expecting moms who may be returning to work shortly after having a baby: the largest breast pump manufacturer in the U.S. has confirmed plans to phase out its double electric breast pump, sold through insurance providers.

The Medela Personal Double Electric Breast Pump Model 57038, offered to a smaller percentage of women with Medicaid coverage, is being phased out and will be replaced with Medela’s most commonly covered insurance pump, Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pump Starter Set Model 57081. Medela confirmed this switch was planned in early 2015. In November, Medela began communicating the change verbally to its customers (not to be confused with public consumers), in what the company describes as its normal phase-out process.

While there have been rumors of customer complaints regarding a low output from the pump (a fairly common concern voiced in breast pump reviews from many different manufacturers), Medela says the phase-out has nothing to do with customer concerns. Medela explains to Babble that the change is related to maintaining product integrity and giving all moms access to new technology with the insurance Pump In Style Advanced Model 57081. The company says its product portfolio — with Medela breast pumps now found in 80 percent of American and British hospitals — is moving toward its patented 2-Phase Expression Technology, that can yield up to 18 percent more milk when double pumping.

According to Medela, this difference in technology is subtle but important:

“2-Phase Expression Technology is based on research that shows that babies breastfeed in two distinct phases. With 2-Phase Expression Technology, Medela breast pumps work more like breastfeeding babies, while single-phase pumps involve a single style of suction throughout the pumping session.”

A phase-out of a popular breast pump sold by a major manufacturer takes time. As Baby Bargains points out, the 57038 pump may still be available for a few months after its production ends in 2015, sold for $115 on sites like Amazon and available through insurance providers. After customers implied Medela was manufacturing better versions of insurance-issued pumps to sell at higher retail prices, Medela reps confirmed to both Bloomberg and Baby Bargains that its retail and insurance pump motors are identical. The only difference between the retail and insurance pumps, says Medela, is that the insurance pumps may be lacking some extra accessories.

To the naked eye, this debate about pumping power may sound like hair-splitting, but to a mother who has to return to work in as little as six weeks and still wants to breastfeed, an effective breast pump matters a lot. And to the one quarter of moms who return to work as early as two weeks after having a baby, breast pump power can be everything.

According to the National Association for Child Development International (NACD), the average weaning age in the U.S. is 3 months, compared to a worldwide weaning average of 4.2 years. The World Health Organization breastfeeding recommendations fall somewhere in between at the 3-year mark, though most moms end up cutting back and supplementing with formula when they head back to work after maternity leave. For some moms, it’s a matter of convenience and personal choice; for others, it has more to do with a low milk supply and a breast pump that doesn’t seem to produce enough milk no matter how much they pump.

In a perfect world, The Affordable Care Act, implemented by most insurers on or after August 1, 2012, was supposed to fix all that. The ACA made free breast pumps available to new moms through their health insurance, a plan intended to take away one of the biggest hurdles for a new mom returning to work. And for the most part, moms who have taken advantage of this new baby bonus have been satisfied. But as the Bloomberg article mentions, some customer complaints have surfaced since Medela has cornered the insurance breast pump market, including problems with efficacy and power in the insurance-issued pumps.

For the many moms eligible to receive a Medela pump through insurance, this behind-the-scenes “upgrade” comes as welcomed news. Continuing to update breast pump features and technology is just one more way to make it easier for a new mom to feed her baby. As Medela VP of Marketing Susan Rappin tells Babble:

“Medela is excited to continue evolving our product line to best meet the needs of breastfeeding moms by focusing on our breast pumps that feature our research-based and patented 2-Phase Expression Technology. Medela stands behind the quality of all our products, and we are constantly working to improve the pumping experience for all breastfeeding moms.”

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