News & Events

Dough for Deval Patrick’s doc

Hip maker paid MGH surgeon $3.3M for consulting


By Christine McConville

Thursday, September 3, 2009 –

Gov. Deval Patrick, who has worked to rein in health-care costs by curbing the financial ties between doctors and medical companies, had his hip replaced this week by a surgeon who has been paid millions of dollars in consulting fees by a top replacement hip maker.

The governor went under the knife of Dr. Harry Rubash, the head of orthopedic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. Rubash received some $3.3 million in payments for two years of consulting work for Zimmer Inc.

The Warsaw, Ind.-based Zimmer disclosed payments to doctors and hospitals as part of a settlement with federal authorities that ended a probe into alleged kickback practices by companies looking to gain market share in the $6.5 billion orthopedic device industry. The list included payments to Rubash of $1.1 million in 2007 and $2.2 million in 2008.

Zimmer spokesman Brad Bishop said the money was paid to Rubash for “various services.” He declined to provide further details.

Rubash could not be reached for comment. His office referred questions about the Zimmer payments to a Mass. General spokeswoman, who did not respond by deadline.

Four top hip and knee replacement product makers, including Zimmer, reached deals with the Department of Justice in 2007 that allowed them to avoid criminal prosecution by paying a total of $310 million in fines and disclosing payments to doctors for 2 years.

The money monitoring ended July 4, and the DOJ dismissed criminal conspiracy complaints against the companies. No doctors were charged in the probe.

During the monitoring period, the firms’ payments to surgeons fell by 61 percent, from $272 million in 2007 to $105 million in 2008, the DOJ said.

Federal authorities have not asserted that any of the payments led to unnecessary knee or hip surgery or maltreatment of any patients. But health-care advocates say financial deals between physicians and device makers can increase medical costs and reduce choices for patients.

“A hip replacement anywhere else in the world costs 10 percent of what it costs us,” said Tim McCullough, a Pennsylvania attorney who has sued Zimmer on behalf of a competitor. “A huge percent of our costs is because of kickbacks.”

Massachusetts last year enacted one of the nation’s toughest laws designed to limit gifts to doctors from medical firms. The law, signed by Patrick on Aug. 10, 2008, requires the public disclosure of gifts or payments over $50.

“This measure will set a marketing code of conduct to help ensure health-care providers make choices about prescription drugs and medical devices for their patients based on therapeutic benefits and cost-effectiveness,” Patrick said in a statement at the time.

DOJ spokesman Michael Drewniak said that “simply because a physician gets compensation does not make it illegitimate.

“A physician could be receiving royalty payments from a product he or she created,” he said.

But, he added, during the anti-kickback probe, the feds found that “the industry was essentially buying (product) loyalty from awide swath of physicians.”

It’s unclear if the governor got a Zimmer hip from Rubash or a product made by another company during Tuesday’s operation. Patrick’s spokeswoman declined to disclose the brand.

The governor has complete confidence in his doctor,” she said.