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Ortho firms pull back on doc payments

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The orthopedic implant industry dialed back its payments to orthopedic surgeons after settling a federal lawsuit in 2007 that accused the companies of paying kickbacks to the surgeons for using the companies' hip and knee implants.

A total of 939 orthopedic surgeons received $198 million in 2007, according to a new report in the Archives of Internal Medicine. A year later, 526 surgeons received payments worth $119 million, plus $109 million in royalty buyouts from Zimmer.

Researchers analyzed data released by the three industry giants based in Warsaw—Biomet Inc., DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. and Zimmer Holdings Inc.—as well as their rivals Stryker Corp., based in Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Smith & Nephew plc, based in the United Kindgom.

The orthopedic companies describe their payments—made to a fraction of the 25,000 orthopedic surgeons nationally—as compensation for consulting, research and clinical trials, or as royalties on products they helped develop.

The number of payments in excess of $1 million didn’t change substantially from year to year, but the companies sharply cut their fees to surgeons who received the smallest amounts, lead researcher Jason Hockenberry, a professor of health policy and management at Emory University, told Bloomberg News.

In 2007, the orthopedic device makers agreed to pay $311 million to settle U.S. Department of Justice claims that they paid kickbacks to surgeons in exchange for exclusively using their products. Prosecutors deferred criminal charges against the companies and required them to disclose the amounts they pay doctors on their corporate websites.

Bill Kolter, Biomet’s vice president for government and public affairs, told Bloomberg that manufacturers can’t develop or evaluate new devices without working with orthopedic surgeons.

“The contributions that result from such collaborations add tremendous value to the health of patients and to the economics of the health-care system,” Kolter wrote in an e-mail.

 

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