June 17, 2021 | KHN
Device Makers Have Funneled Billions to Orthopedic Surgeons Who Use Their Products
Medical industry payments to orthopedists and neurosurgeons who operate on the spine have risen sharply, despite government accusations that some of these transactions may violate federal anti-kickback laws, drive up health care spending and put patients at risk of serious harm, a KHN investigation has found.
These payments come in various forms, from royalties for helping to design implants to speakers’ fees for promoting devices at medical meetings to stock holdings in exchange for consulting work, according to government data.
Health policy experts and regulators have focused for decades on pharmaceutical companies’ payments to doctors — which research has shown can influence which drugs they prescribe. But far less is known about the impact of similar payments from device companies to surgeons. A drug can readily be stopped if deemed harmful, while surgical devices are permanently implanted in the body and often replace native bone that has been removed.
Penalties for paying, or accepting, kickbacks often are small compared with the profits they can generate.
“Some people would say if you penalize companies enough, they won’t be making these offers,” said Genevieve Kanter, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She said small fines may be chalked up to the “cost of doing business.”