Financial and gift-giving relationships between surgeons and the medical-device industry are difficult to track and arent going to go away soon, witnesses told a Senate panel.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said these relationships pose substantial conflict-of-interest problems, inappropriately influence medical decisions and can also violate federal antikickback and self-referral statutes, he said.
Charles Rosen, president of the Association for Ethics in Spine Surgery, said the practice is deeply embedded in the industry and has not been adequately addressed. I dont think its possible to change this without some outside intervention, he said.
The hearing spotlighted a 2007 settlement agreement between the Justice Department and five orthopedic companies that spent a combined total of $230 million on these types of consultant payments and other financial arrangements, according to the Senate panels calculations. Collectively, the companies paid the government more than $310 million in settlements.
Chad Phipps, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Zimmer Holdings, one of the orthopedic companies involved in the settlement, admitted there were abuses in the past, not unique to Zimmer but across the entire industry. The settlement is an opportunity to turn the dial up and make improvements, he testified.
Kohl and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are co-sponsoring a bill that would require manufacturers to disclose the amount of money they give to doctors through payments, gifts and other means. -- by Jennifer Lubell
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