Artificial Joint Makers Paid More Than $200 Million to Doctors and Hospitals Who Buy Their Products
Financial disclosures by five manufacturers of artificial joints have revealed that this year the companies have paid more than $200 million to doctors and hospitals who are often the same ones who are deciding which company's joints to buy, according to an Associated Press calculation of the disclosures. The disclosure was required by a settlement the manufacturers reached with the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey over an investigation that they gave money and trips to surgeons who used their products. The AP's calculation is conservative, because the companies were required to disclose payments within a $25,000 range, and the AP used the low end in its calculation. Prosecutors alleged that from at least 2002 through 2006, the companies paid exorbitant amounts for doctors to be consultants and to use their products exclusively. The money includes such items as royalties for inventions and payments for teaching classes. They did not allege that all the money was illegitimate. Doctors need to learn how to implant an artificial joint and that may be best accomplished at an event the company pays for. Nonetheless, while doctors and hospitals may not intentionally base their decisions on a manufacturer's payments, the payments undoubtedly influence, even silently, their decisions. The influence that pharmaceutical companies enjoy through making payments, including payments for "lecturers", is similar to what has now been revealed regarding payments by artificial joint makers. The settlement required the companies to disclose who was paid this year and to update the information quarterly. Later this year, it also will require them to disclose nonmonetary payments, such as trips. Four of the companies - Biomet Inc., DePuy Orthopaedics Inc., Smith & Nephew Inc. and Zimmer Holdings Inc. - had their charges dropped when they paid a total of $310 million in fines and agreed to monitoring in a settlement announced in September. The fifth company, Stryker Corp., was never charged and paid no fines but agreed to disclose its payments.