Failing Artificial Hips: Consumers Bearing Too Big of a Burden

By: Jordan Margolis, The Margolis Firm PC

New York Times journalist Barry Meier has recently written a series of articles alerting our nation’s patients and consumers to the startling statistics on failing hip replacement devices. The NY Times informs on the “high cost of failing hips”, in that these devices have produced “the most widespread medical implant failure in decades — involving thousands of all-metal artificial hips that need to be replaced prematurely.” These articles stem from recent years’ recalls of metal on metal artificial joint replacements.

On July 22, 2008, the FDA announced a voluntary recall of the Zimmer Durom® Acetabular Component (“Durom Cup”)

On August 24, 2010, the FDA there was a voluntary recall of the DePuy ASRâ„¢ total hip system.

Read more about the FDA’s Recalls Specific to Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Systems at….

The cause for alarm regarding these failing artificial hips is threefold: (1) the devices are failing prematurely; (2) replacement costs are astronomical; and (3) the most technologically-advanced models do not perform better than older, less expensive designs.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, “30 percent of artificial hip and knee implants introduced over a recent five year period have higher failure rates than older, less expensive designs,” writes Meier. “The findings are significant for patients in the United States because many of the new designs, like so-called metal-on-metal hips, are widely used here. Those implants, which have both a ball and cup made of metal, are expected to fail prematurely in tens of thousands of patients rather than lasting 15 years or more as artificial joints are supposed to do.”

We learn about fellow Illinois resident, 55 year old Thomas Dougherty, in Meier’s most recent article on this pressing subject. Thomas “spent five months this year without a left hip, largely stuck on a recliner watching his medical bills soar. In August, [he] underwent an operation to replace a failed artificial hip, but his pelvis fractured soon afterward. The replacement hip was abandoned and then a serious infection set in. Some of the bills: $400,776 in charges related to hospitalizations, and $28,081 in doctors’ bills.”

Patients are paying out of pocket for the remaining thousands of dollars their health care plans don’t cover to replace their failing hip implants. But they not alone in bearing the brunt of the cost that these deteriorating devices are continuing to create (despite recent advances in artificial hip technology.)

Taxpayer-financed health care programs, employers, and insurers might be spending “billions of dollars in coming years, contributing to the soaring cost of health care.” Meier explains that “the financial fallout is expected to be unusually large and complex because the episode involves a class of products, not a single device or just one company.”

The NY Times further notes that the increased number of failing artificial hips has “set off a financial scramble.” Thousands of lawsuits across America have been filed in the past four years. “Insurers are alerting patients that they plan to recover their expenses from any settlement money that patients receive.”

As of October 2011, approximately 3,000 patients filed a lawsuit involving the DePuy division of Johnson & Johnson’s 2010 recall of one particular all metal hip implant.

The NY Times explains that “there is no data on the number of all-metal hips that have failed prematurely in this country because the outcomes of orthopedic procedures are not formally tracked by the government or private companies.” However, we do know that “tens of thousands of patients in the United States may have to undergo operations over the next decade to replace the implants” (according to Dr. Art Sedrakyan, a researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, who is studying the hip problem.)

What are people suggesting as a solution to this problem?

In December 2011, “bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate that could force manufacturers to track the performance of implants like artificial hips after they have been approved for sale.”

Dr. Stephen E. Graves, the director of the Australian registry and a co-author of the above-mentioned study on newer models of hip implants, has explained that this “regulation is not to impede innovation but to ensure safety and effectiveness of medical devices…This protects patients, but it also protects companies.”

What do YOU think?

Atty. Jordan Margolis
The Margolis Firm PC
55 W. Monroe St. Suite 2455
Chicago, IL 60603
Ph: 312.236.2201