Patients sue clinics, distributor over falsified spinal implants

Spinal implants on X rayDozens of people in the US have filed lawsuits against an equipment distributor and several healthcare facilities for using unapproved implants in spinal surgery.

The lawsuits centre on spinal implants distributed by now-defunct Spinal Solutions LLC to clinics, and paints a picture of an organised fraudulent network fuelled by kickbacks given in exchange for patient referrals to spinal surgeons.

Hospitals under scrutiny in the class action include Pacific Hospital in Long Beach and Parkview Community Medical Centre, with administrators and healthcare staff accused of being knowingly complicit in the implantation of "counterfeit, non-FDA-approved, 'knock-off' spinal implants, consisting of screws, rods and cages for use in spinal fusion surgeries," according to a complaint filed on behalf of plaintiffs.

"The devices were installed into people's bodies at a very low cost to the providers," said lawyer Brian Katabeck of Katabeck Brown Kellner, who claims that healthcare facilities then defrauded insurance companies by claiming for reimbursement of the items at the full price of a genuine implant.

"The conspirators were "making thousands and thousands of dollars off each patient," he said, with surgeons paid up to $15,000 per surgery.

Defense attorney Terree Bowers, representing Pacific Hospital's former owner Michael Drobot, insists that his clients had nothing to do with the allegations concerning the counterfeit screws, although he has previously pleaded guilty to federal charges related to kickbacks given to physicians and is due to be sentenced in December.

The activities may have led to as much as $500m in fraudulent claims, mostly filed through the California's workers compensation system.

Other defendants in the case include a local machine shop accused of manufacturing the unapproved parts.

A separate whistleblower lawsuit is alleging that many of the patients with fake implants may not have needed the surgery at all.

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