Failing artificial hips are creating huge costs—both in terms of dollars spent and suffering for patients. As the New York Times says in a December 27, 2011 article, failing artificial hips are “the most widespread medical implant failure in decades.” Patients with these failing hips not only have to undergo additional surgeries to replace these faulty parts, but the costs associated with these replacements could cost taxpayers, employers, and insurers billions of dollars over the years, according to medical and legal experts. Costs for this complex situation will hit these stratospheric heights because, as the Times’ article explains, the failing artificial hips are not limited to a single manufacturer or implant model.
Some patients who must undergo surgeries to remove and replace defective hip implants have experienced complications such as having the bones that hold the implant fracture during surgery. Other complications such as infections can cause medical bills to increase dramatically.
Hips implants that are causing severe problems are metal-on-metal devices–both the ball and joint are made of metal, and some of these devices are seen to be failing within 3 years. Other artificial joints normally last 15 years or longer. The metal-on-metal hip implants also cause patients problems from the metal debris that flakes off of the joint as it moves. The metal debris lodged in surrounding tissue has crippled some patients.
More than 5,000 lawsuits and complaints have been filed against manufacturers of all-metal hip replacements, the Times’ reports, and insurers are letting patients know they intend to collect their expenses from any settlements patients receive from manufacturers. Medicare has also expressed similar intentions.
Up until recently, when numbers declined dramatically, all-metal hip replacements made up one-third of the approximately 250,000 hip replacements implanted in patients every year in the U.S. One estimate, according to the Times’ article, is that roughly 500,000 patients have had an all-metal hip replacement. According to one study, no artificial hip offered over a recent five-year interval—including some of the all-metal hip replacements—lasted longer than older implant types, and of the new implants introduced, 30 percent were worse than the older ones.
Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy division made the news last year when it recalled its all-metal hip replacement that had been implanted in 40,000 patients in the U.S. alone. The Times’ states that as of October, roughly 3,500 patients have lawsuits filed relating to those faulty implants. Dr. Art Sedrakyan, a researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, estimated that over the next ten years, tens of thousands of patients in the U.S. may have to have additional surgeries to replace the faulty implants.
Different manufacturers have responded in various ways regarding the costs associated with replacing defective implants. Zimmer Holdings, according to the Times, states its all-metal implants are safe, though they have settled hundreds of claims. DePuy is covering expenses associated with its recalled device, the Articular Surface Replacement, or A.S.R., but the Times reveals that some patients who took DePuy’s settlement have had difficulties connected with their medical bills. Some have had only a fraction of the costs covered, leaving the rest of the bills associated with the hip replacement surgery the patients’ responsibility.
In addition to the A.S.R. lawsuits, patients filed 560 lawsuits against DePuy for another all-metal hip replacement model known as the Pinnacle. For this implant model, though, DePuy states that it is working well, and patients needing a replacement for the Pinnacle are having to cover expenses with Medicare, insurance, or pay for it on their own. Rather than file lawsuits themselves against implant manufacturers, insurers will, in an effort to recover their expenses, let patients know through their lawyers that they expect to be reimbursed from the patients’ settlement money. While not everyone can afford to do it, some frustrated patients are paying out of pocket for hip replacement surgeries so they can walk again.
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