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Senator asks Zimmer for info about product complaints

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Warsaw-based Zimmer Holdings Inc., the world’s biggest maker of artificial hips and knee joints, was asked by a U.S. senator to disclose information about how it handles complaints about its products.

In a letter, Senator Charles Grassley asked Chief Executive Officer David C. Dvorak to list reports of “safety concerns or problems” reported by Zimmer’s consultants or contractors since January 2008, along with how the company responded. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, also called for Zimmer to provide information on how it tracks the long-term performance of its orthopedic devices.

The request comes at a time when lawmakers are trying to stem rising health-care costs, which have increased at 2.5 times the rate of inflation annually. List prices for artificial hips and knees have risen 5.6 percent so far this year, on top of a 130 percent increase in the average selling price of a hip between 1996 and 2008, according to Orthopedic Network News, a trade journal that tracks costs.

Grassley’s inquiry stemmed from an article in the New York Times about a dispute between Zimmer and two of its consultants about whether and why artificial hips and knees were failing in patients after being implanted. In both cases, Zimmer blamed the surgical techniques, while the consultants blamed the devices, the Times said.

“Zimmer welcomes the opportunity to speak with Senator Grassley,” Charlie Young, a Zimmer spokesman, said in an e- mailed statement.

Feedback from physicians “can lead to modifications and improvements to products, their labeling and the manner in which we train and educate surgeons about our products,” Young said.

Zimmer shares rose 83 cents to $52.99 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has slipped 10 percent this year.
 

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