Replacing Faulty Heart Devices Costs Medicare $1.5 Billion in 10 Years


Fred Schulte and Christina Jewett, New York Times: October 2, 2017

Medicare paid at least $1.5 billion over a decade to replace seven types of defective heart devices, a government watchdog says. The devices apparently failed for thousands of patients.

A report released on Monday by the inspector general’s office for Health and Human Services said officials needed to do a better job tracking these costly product failures to protect patients from harm. More detailed reporting could lead to earlier recognition of serious problems with medical devices and faster recalls of all types of “poorly performing” ones, the inspector general’s office said.

The report marks the first effort by anyone in government to assess the losses to taxpayers and patients 65 and older from medical gear that proves faulty.

Officials said the $1.5 billion lost from the seven devices from 2005 through 2014 was a “conservative estimate.” Patients also paid $140 million in out-of-pocket costs for this care, the report noted.

The report found that nearly 73,000 people on Medicare had one of the seven devices replaced because of recalls, premature failures, medically necessary upgrades or infections. It did not outline specific injuries that patients suffered as a result. […]

 David Lamir, an official in the inspector general’s Boston office, said the $1.5 billion figure represented a “drop in the bucket” of the true costs to Medicare from medical products that malfunction. He said device failures not only waste money, but also can expose patients to a “high risk of illness,” including needless surgeries.

The report said that medical device recalls nearly doubled from 2003 through 2012 and noted that they have probably cost Medicare billions of dollars. In the past five to six years, more than 200 cardiac devices have been recalled, according to the inspector general’s office. In most cases, manufacturers withdrew their products voluntarily after reports surfaced of injuries or malfunctions. Device makers are required to report problems they learn of, often from doctors and hospitals, to a database run by the Food and Drug Administration.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research who has testified before Congress on device safety, said her organization supports making hospitals report malfunctioning devices when they seek Medicare payments to cover an implant surgery. She said the change would help officials pinpoint faulty devices before issuing a recall for tens of thousands of products in patients.

“It would be much more obvious much more quickly which implanted devices were causing problems,” she said.

Ms. Zuckerman noted that the report did not touch on other high-profile device failures, like metal-on-metal hip implants or vaginal mesh. […]

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