Billions of dollars in payments to orthopedists and neurosurgeons who operate on the spine,


An Investigation by KFF’s Kaiser Health News Finds Medical Device Makers Have Paid Billions to Surgeons Who Use Their Products, Raising Concerns About Conflicts of Interest That Could Put Patients At Risk

A Kaiser Health News investigation finds that medical device makers have funneled billions of dollars in payments to orthopedists and neurosurgeons who operate on the spine, raising concerns that some of the transactions may violate federal anti-kickback laws and drive up health care spending. Equally important, the lucrative implantation of such devices sometimes puts patients’ health at risk, resulting in a spate of lawsuits from injured patients, including one brought by the former Olympian Mary Lou Retton.

KHN journalists Fred Schulte and Elizabeth Lucas detail how manufacturers of hardware for spinal implants, artificial knees and hip joints paid doctors more than $3.1 billion in various ways in a recent six-year period. The payments – from royalties for helping to design implants, to speakers’ fees for promoting devices at medical meetings and stock holdings in exchange for consulting work – can turn doctors into multimillionaires even as some patients are left feeling worse than they did before surgery.

Unlike the much-scrutinized payments from pharmaceutical companies to doctors, the payments from device makers have attracted little attention from regulators. The story details how an ambitious medical device maker can generate tens of millions of dollars in profits by developing relationships with just a handful of surgeons.

The story, part of KHN’s efforts to expose and explain the workings of the U.S. health care system through accountability journalism, ran today on Fortune magazine’s website and on KHN.org. Future installments in the series will explore the role of sales representatives, celebrity endorsements and other suspect deals between industry and surgeons that help fuel the multi-billion dollar marketing machine.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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