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Rise in Payments

There has been a rise in the number of payments made by medical device companies to surgeons using their products, likely in violation of anti-kickback laws, Kaiser Health News reports.

These payments – which KHN says may come in the form of consulting or other fees – total billions of dollars, and payments reported to the government-run Open Payments website show they have increased from $8.6 billion in 2014 to more than $10 billion in 2020. It adds that medical industry payments to orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons have particularly grown.

KHN focuses on one company, SpineFrontier, that makes implants for spinal surgery and has been accused by the US Department of Justice of paying "sham consulting fees" of $8 million to dozens of spinal surgeons. It adds that the firm has also been the subject of whistleblower complaints. The company founder tells KHN that a court date has been set and the "facts of the case will be litigated."

KHN notes that the penalties for violating anti-kickback laws are often small fines. "Some people would say if you penalize companies enough, they won't be making these offers," the University of Pennsylvania's Genevieve Kanter, tells it, but she adds that the fines may just be considered the "cost of doing business."