Medical Doctors Used Fake Hardware In Spine Surgeries

California Medical Doctors Used Fake Hardware In Spine Surgeries

Medical Doctors in Southern California used fake hardware, having implanted counterfeit screws and rods in thousands of injured workers, fake hardware that was made up in some local small machine shop, according to lawsuits filed throughout the state.  Many of the doctors who used the fake hardware took kickbacks including cash and private jet rides, while middlemen and hospitals profited by wildly inflating the cost of the screws, according to one suit filed in Sacramento.

fake hardware

David Solomon had these screws removed from his back. He has ongoing pain and loss of movement after a screw broke.
Photo Credit: Chris Purcell

The allegations deepen the scandal surrounding a Corona del Mar hospital executive who pleaded guilty in April to paying doctors to bring in patients as part of a $500 million insurance scam.  The executive, Michael Drobot, also admitted to bribing former Democratic State Sen. Ronald Calderon to keep huge insurance payments flowing.

Some of the fake hardware screws cost $300 to make but were billed at as much as $12,500 each, records say.  “It’s probably the worst example where fraud has progressed from being a financial crime to hurting people for profit,” said Thomas Fraysse, an Oakland attorney on the case. “It’s beyond unethical.”  Law firms in the Bay Area and Los Angeles plan to continue to file cases on behalf of people with counterfeit implants studding their backs.

The cases revolve around spinal fusion surgeries, in which fake hardware, including bogus rods and screws were implanted into patients backs to relieve pain. The state’s workers’ compensation system long paid a premium for hardware used in the surgeries until a loophole was closed by recent legislation.

Unnecessary Surgeries Done Using Fake Hardware

A separate whistleblower lawsuit alleges that many of the patients with fake hardware implants may not have needed the surgery at all. According to that May 2012 suit, they were the collateral damage of a massive scheme to defraud insurers, involving Drobot, former owner of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.  Drobot admitted to paying doctors kickbacks of up to $15,000 to operate in his hospital. He also admitted to paying bribes to Calderon to protect a law allowing hospitals to bill insurance providers for the full cost of spinal implants. Calderon, a Montebello Democrat, has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. Drobot’s sentencing is scheduled for December, according to news reports.

Attorneys said their findings demonstrate the depth of deception surrounding the lucrative spine surgeries.  The patient trusted his doctor to use medical implants approved by the Food and Drug Administration, his lawsuit states. Instead the MD’s used counterfeit implants because he was being paid a kickback to do so.

Spinal Solutions LLC, a now-shuttered company, is accused of distributing and inflating the cost of the fake hardware in the lawsuit and the whistleblower claim.  The firm’s owner is accused of passing off the counterfeit rods and screws as FDA-approved even though they were made at the local tool shop. The owner filed for bankruptcy last year, claiming $12.6 million in liabilities, including a plane, yacht and $50,000 Mercedes-Benz. The petition was rejected, court records say, in part because Williams failed to disclose his ownership of a second airplane and a second Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The FDA cited Spinal Solutions in 2012 for a variety of quality control violations. Last year, the agency announced that the company was recalling spinal implants because problems with the products “could cause patient harm due to implant breakage, movement, or inadequate sterilization.”