With media outlets filled with stories about Medicare fraud and improper medical procedures, the tale of a Baltimore physician who implanted a record number of stents in patients (many of which were unnecessary) is not out of place.
Baltimore cardiologist Dr. Mark Midei implanted 30 stents in one day in August 2008. When the stent manufacturer heard the news, a company sales rep spent over $2,000 on a BBQ dinner at Dr. Midei’s home. The cost of the celebratory BBQ was minor compared to the millions in salary and perks Midei received.
In 2007, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that many patients who had stents implanted would be just as well off without them. At the time, the study noted that while unnecessary surgery for stents is a problem, it is a rare one.
Rather than his stent procedures falling after the NEJM study, Dr. Midei’s numbers actually rose – from 800 in 2005 to over 1,200 a year in subsequent years.
After a patient complained in April 2009 about receiving an unnecessary stent, the hospital hired experts to review almost 2,000 implant cases from January 2007 to May 2009. The results of the review: 585 patients might have received unnecessary stents.
Midei came under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee earlier this year after a series of articles in the Baltimore Sun claimed he had implanted unnecessary stents in patients, solely to reap high reimbursements from Medicare and private insurance. These 585 procedures cost $6.6 million, of which Medicare paid for $3.8 million.
Unnecessary Stent Procedures: A Widespread Issue?
When patients have frequent chest pains and x-rays reveal blocked arteries, then stents can be helpful or even necessary to patient safety. But there are serious side-effects possible from stent procedures, including increased risk of bleeding, clotting strokes and heart attacks. Implanting a stent that is not needed puts a patient’s health at risk and could result in serious injury.
Last year, in 2009, Medicare spent over $3.5 billion on stent procedures. Stent procedures often result in over $10,000 of revenue for hospitals, so doctors implanting the stents are not usually censured. In fact, in many cases, doctors bringing in a lot of revenue from stent implants are celebrated within their hospitals.
But medical procedures shouldn’t be about revenue. Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., noted, “Hospital patients expect their care to be based on medical need, not profits. Even more disconcerting is that this could be a sign of a larger national trend of wasteful medical device use.”
Unnecessary stent implantation seems to be coming to light across the country:
- Last month, the Texas Medical Board accused a renowned cardiologist of inserting unnecessary stents.
- In September, a Maryland cardiologist was accused by federal prosecutors of performing unnecessary stent surgeries.
- Last year, a Louisiana doctor received 10 years in prison for implanting unneeded stents.
While not every stent implanted is unnecessary, the increasing number of doctors coming under investigation for such procedures is alarming. If you or a loved one has a received a stent and you think it might have been an unnecessary procedure, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.