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Making Billions From the Booming Breast-Pump Market

Obamacare helps, and hinders, a Swiss breast-pump manufacturer.
Medela’s $45 Harmony breast pump.

Medela’s $45 Harmony breast pump.

Photographer: Rob Kulisek for Bloomberg Businessweek

Obamacare has been a blessing for Swedish-born engineer Olle Larsson. In 1961 he founded Medela, which makes the butter-yellow breast pumps found in lactation rooms at companies and institutions from JPMorgan Chase to Harvard University. Mandatory coverage of breast pumps has helped boost the Swiss company’s sales by 34 percent in the two years the Affordable Care Act has been in effect. “The insurance part has changed our business. More moms have access to pumps,” says Susan Rappin, Medela’s vice president for marketing. Adds Bruce Frishman, president of New Hampshire Pharmacy & Medical Equipment: “Brand awareness is off the charts. Every new mother or potential mother knows about Medela.”

But the ACA has also upended Larsson’s business in his biggest market by changing the way products are sold. Most pumps covered by insurance can’t be bought over-the-counter. Obamacare requires women to get the devices from certified medical-equipment suppliers. That’s taken a toll on small retailers, who’ve largely been cut out of the business and are a prime outlet for Medela’s more expensive consumer models.