A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

It's About Device Makers, Too

It's About Device Makers, Too

May 11, 2008

Some folks have wondered why the ban on gift giving to physicians extends beyond pharmaceutical companies to medical device makers. For the answer, see this article in the May 19 Business Week:

In February, spine surgeon Dr. Charles D. Rosen stood before the Senate Special Committee on Aging and chastised the medical device industry for its unethical marketing practices. Rosen, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California at Irvine, told legislators that surgeons often receive huge consulting fees from companies in return for using the manufacturers' products or promoting them as participants of medical societies and business ventures. "Patients usually don't know of this conflict, which leads frequently to unnecessary implants and surgery," he told 20 senators. ...

In orthopedics, gift-giving is rampant. That was evident last winter, when Zimmer Holdings (ZMH) and four other large device makers agreed, as part of a $311 million settlement with the Justice Dept., to post lists of their paid consultants on their Web sites. Zimmer disclosed that it had handed over $86 million to more than 750 hospitals, doctors, and medical associations in 2007. The DOJ had alleged that some of those payments were not legitimate consulting fees but rather illegal kickbacks—de facto rewards for physicians who used certain products heavily.

There's something rotten in the house of health care. Congrats to the State Senate for having the guts to take this on. Here's hoping they can hold up under the intense industry pressure to back down. The industry would not be fighting this so much if it were not such an integral part of their business.