Medtronic pays 5 surgeons $7m kickbacks in just 9 months: The rape of Medicare

The Medtronic story is not just about ghost- writing and paying for favourable peer-reviewed scientific papers and supporting researchers to the tune of millions but it is also about all the surgeons in their pocket and how they exploit and “rape” Medicare.

Earl Stevens writes:

Norton Hospital in Louisville, Ky., may not be a household name nationally. But five senior spine surgeons have helped put it on the map in at least one category: From 2004 to 2008, Norton performed the third-most spinal fusions on Medicare patients in the country.

The five surgeons are also among the largest recipients nationwide of payments from medical-device giant Medtronic Inc. In the first nine months of this year alone, the surgeons — Steven Glassman, Mitchell Campbell, John Johnson, John Dimar and Rolando Puno — received more than $7 million from the Fridley, Minn., company. Medtronic and the surgeons say the payments are mostly royalties they earned for helping the company design one of its best-selling spine products.

Corporate whistleblowers and congressional critics contend such arrangements—which are common in orthopedic surgery—amount to kickbacks to stoke sales of medical devices. They argue that the overuse of surgical hardware ranging from heart stents to artificial hips is a big factor behind the soaring costs of Medicare, the government medical-insurance system for the elderly and disabled. ….

Using a Medicare database that tracks hospitals’ billing, The Wall Street Journal was able to ascertain that Norton is among the most aggressive practitioners of spinal fusion in the country.

Spinal fusion has become one of medicine’s most controversial procedures. It involves fusing together two or more vertebrae to alleviate back pain, usually with the help of metal plates, rods and screws implanted in the patient’s back. Tens of thousands of dollars of hardware can go into a single surgery. ….. Conservative spine surgeons argue that a spinal fusion is appropriate only for a small number of conditions, such as spinal instability, spinal fracture or a severe curvature of the spine known as scoliosis, and that financial incentives have caused the procedure to become overused. …

One health insurer, the nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, announced in September that it would stop paying for spine fusions performed on such patients beginning on Jan. 1. The insurer said that the procedures are “considered not medically necessary.” …

Some recent studies have suggested poor outcomes for spinal fusion.

So much for the Hippocratc Oath which requires “prescribing regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never doing harm to anyone“.

Related: Medtronics and others – “supporting doctors with multi – million dollar payments”  

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