Medical and legal experts are estimating that the widespread failure of thousands of all-metal artificial hips could be costing taxpayers, insurers, employers and others in the neighborhood of billions of dollars in the coming years.
The medical implant failure, being deemed as the worst in decades, has resulted because of a group of products – not just one, and is expected to make health care costs increase dramatically overall.
To illustrate the problem, Thomas Dougherty was without a left hip for five months this year, mainly housebound, and watching his medical costs soar. When Dougherty did finally get the operation to replace the failed artificial hip, his pelvis fractured not long after.
The replacement hip was abandoned. After, a serious infection set in. The bills include $400,000 plus in charges related to hospitalizations, and nearly $30,000 in doctors’ bills.
The alleged metal-on-metal hips such as Dougherty’s are ones in which a device’s ball and joint are made of metal, These are failing at high rates within a few years instead of lasting 15 years or more, as artificial joints normally do. The wear of metal parts against each other is generating debris that is damaging tissue and, in some cases, even crippling patients. And let’s not forget the recovery time and general overall misery associated with a major operation.
In recent months, there have been over 5,000 lawsuits and complaints against makers of all-metal replacement hips. Insurers are informing patients that they plan to recover their expenses from any settlement money that patients receive. Medicare is also expected to try to recover its costs.
While his insurer has covered his bills so far, Dougherty was planning to sue his surgeon, who may have implanted the device incorrectly, and Johnson & Johnson, which produced his artificial hip, to help recoup some of the insurer’s money.
Until a recent sharp decline, all-metal implants accounted for nearly one-third of the estimated 250,000 hip replacements performed each year in the United States. Some 500,000 patients have received an all-metal replacement hip, according to one estimate. A new study found that no new artificial hip or knee introduced during a recent five-year period — implants that included some of the all-metal hips — were more durable than older devices, and 30 percent were worse.
One all-metal model has seen its share of troubles, and was implanted in 40,000 patients in the United States, and was recalled last year by the DePuy division of Johnson & Johnson. As of October, some 3,500 patients had filed a lawsuit involving that device.
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.
Device producers have taken differing stances to covering patient expenses. Zimmer Holdings, which says its all-metal implants are safe, has settled hundreds of patient claims, lawyers involved in those cases say. Also, DePuy is covering costs related to the device it recalled last year, the A.S.R., or Articular Surface Replacement.