Tag Archives: medicare

Medicare pays for failed back surgeries but not highly rated chiropractic

I recently read an article summarizing a study that showed that risky and unnecessary back surgeries are costing Americans billions in health care costs.  As a chiropractor whose practice focuses more on functional neurology and nutrition, I have rarely posted about traditional chiropractic.  This was too important to pass up.

The study of Medicare patients showed that costlier, more complex spinal fusion surgeries are on the rise — and sometimes done unnecessarily — for a common lower back condition caused by aging and arthritis.

What is even scarier is that the study showed that these surgeries are leading to more hospitalizations and even death in some cases.

The cost to Medicare, just for the hospital charges for the types of back surgery reviewed is about $1.65 billion a year, according to the researchers.  Medicare is a government program that is funded by you and me.  Failed back surgeries are one major reason health care is so expensive in this country.

The study examined two types of back surgeries – decompression and fusion.

In a decompression procedure, the simplest method in the Medicare study, a surgeon cuts away part of the bone that’s painfully pressing on nerves. It can cost about $30,000 in hospital and surgeon fees.

For a fusion, a surgeon binds two or more vertebrae together using a bone graft, with or without plates and screws. The researchers defined a complex fusion as one involving three or more vertebrae or more than one side of the spine. Fusions cost $60,000 to $90,000.

The researchers analyzed data on more than 32,000 Medicare patients who had one of the three types of surgeries in 2007.

The study found that fusions were often done in patients that had little or no need for the more complex surgery.  Fusion is significantly more complicated and leads to more secondary issues.

The lead author on the study concludes that aggressive marketing of devices used in complex fusions is likely playing a role in the increase in these types of surgeries. The marketing includes ads in medical journals and lectures by surgeons on the payroll of device manufacturers.  There is little evidence to support that they are safe or effective for these patients.

The lead author also concluded that patients should ask their doctors about alternatives to complicated operations. Could steroid injections and physical therapy be tried?  While I applaud him for recognizing that there are alternatives he failed to mention the most successful one, chiropractic.

Why Chiropractic?

Chiropractic has been shown in many studies to be very effective in managing low back pain.  It has also been shown to be far more cost effective than surgery.  Think about it this way; a chiropractic visit may cost about $100.  This would likely include an adjustment to correct any fixations in the spine and some other form of therapy.  This might include stretching, neuromuscular work, electrical stim, hot or cold packs or rehabilitative exercises/instruction.

At $100 a visit you could get 900 office visits to the chiropractor or 1 spinal fusion.  To me the choice is obvious.  You certainly wouldn’t need 900 office visits to your chiropractor to get better, but it puts it into perspective for you.

On top of that, there is no garauntee that your back surgery is going to work and the risk of serious complication or death is relatively high.  There is no risk of death or serious complication from chiropractic treatment of the low back.

The study showed that many people are being given unnecessary back surgeries.  They looked at Medicare patients only.  Recently patients in “The Medicare Demonstration Project” gave chiropractors high marks for satisfaction.  Obviously Medicare patients are finding relief with chiropractic care.

The Medicare Demonstration Project revealed the long-awaited results from a congressionally mandated pilot project testing the feasibility of expanding chiropractic services in the Medicare program.

When patients were asked to rate their satisfaction on a 10-point scale, 87 percent of patients in the study gave their doctor of chiropractic a level of 8 or higher. What’s more, 56 percent of those patients rated their chiropractor with a perfect 10.

The very same population of people were studied in these two studies.  While not everyone in the Medicare Demonstration Project had the same conditions as the people in the study that examined back surgeries, surely there was some overlap.  What can be said for sure is that the over all population of people studied between the two were very similar because they were all Medicare patients.

In order to solve the health care crisis in this country, “alternative” therapies that are effective and certainly more cost effective need to be implemented.  Chiropractic fits that bill.  It is clear that people who would benefit from having more access to chiropractic would be satisfied with the care they received.  It is time for Medicare to reexamine what they choose to cover if they want to save the American people their hard earned money.

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Pfizer creates fake company to take rap in criminal case….and gets away with it!

Below is a story from CNN that is a must read.  It shows everything that is wrong with the pharmaceutical industry.

CNN Article

Imagine being charged with a crime, but an imaginary friend takes the rap for you.

That is essentially what happened when Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, was caught illegally marketing Bextra, a painkiller that was taken off the market in 2005 because of safety concerns.

When the criminal case was announced last fall, federal officials touted their prosecution as a model for tough, effective enforcement. “It sends a clear message” to the pharmaceutical industry, said Kevin Perkins, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

But beyond the fanfare, a CNN Special Investigation found another story, one that officials downplayed when they declared victory. It’s a story about the power major pharmaceutical companies have even when they break the laws intended to protect patients.

Big plans for Bextra

The story begins in 2001, when Bextra was about to hit the market. The drug was part of a revolutionary class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors that were supposed to be safer than generic drugs, but at 20 times the price of ibuprofen.

Pfizer and its marketing partner, Pharmacia, planned to sell Bextra as a treatment for acute pain, the kind you have after surgery.

But in November 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Bextra was not safe for patients at high risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The FDA approved Bextra only for arthritis and menstrual cramps. It rejected the drug in higher doses for acute, surgical pain.

Promoting drugs for unapproved uses can put patients at risk by circumventing the FDA’s judgment over which products are safe and effective. For that reason, “off-label” promotion is against the law.

But with billions of dollars of profits at stake, marketing and sales managers across the country nonetheless targeted anesthesiologists, foot surgeons, orthopedic surgeons and oral surgeons. “Anyone that use[d] a scalpel for a living,” one district manager advised in a document prosecutors would later cite.

A manager in Florida e-mailed his sales reps a scripted sales pitch that claimed — falsely — that the FDA had given Bextra “a clean bill of health” all the way up to a 40 mg dose, which is twice what the FDA actually said was safe.

Doctors as pitchmen

Internal company documents show that Pfizer and Pharmacia (which Pfizer later bought) used a multimillion-dollar medical education budget to pay hundreds of doctors as speakers and consultants to tout Bextra.

Pfizer said in court that “the company’s intent was pure”: to foster a legal exchange of scientific information among doctors.

But an internal marketing plan called for training physicians “to serve as public relations spokespeople.”

According to Lewis Morris, chief counsel to the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “They pushed the envelope so far past any reasonable interpretation of the law that it’s simply outrageous.”

Pfizer’s chief compliance officer, Doug Lanker, said that “in a large sales force, successful sales techniques spread quickly,” but that top Pfizer executives were not aware of the “significant mis-promotion issue with Bextra” until federal prosecutors began to show them the evidence.

By April 2005, when Bextra was taken off the market, more than half of its $1.7 billion in profits had come from prescriptions written for uses the FDA had rejected.

Too big to nail

But when it came to prosecuting Pfizer for its fraudulent marketing, the pharmaceutical giant had a trump card: Just as the giant banks on Wall Street were deemed too big to fail, Pfizer was considered too big to nail.

Why? Because any company convicted of a major health care fraud is automatically excluded from Medicare and Medicaid. Convicting Pfizer on Bextra would prevent the company from billing federal health programs for any of its products. It would be a corporate death sentence.

Prosecutors said that excluding Pfizer would most likely lead to Pfizer’s collapse, with collateral consequences: disrupting the flow of Pfizer products to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, causing the loss of jobs including those of Pfizer employees who were not involved in the fraud, and causing significant losses for Pfizer shareholders.

“We have to ask whether by excluding the company [from Medicare and Medicaid], are we harming our patients,” said Lewis Morris of the Department of Health and Human Services.

So Pfizer and the feds cut a deal. Instead of charging Pfizer with a crime, prosecutors would charge a Pfizer subsidiary, Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. Inc.

The CNN Special Investigation found that the subsidiary is nothing more than a shell company whose only function is to plead guilty.

According to court documents, Pfizer Inc. owns (a) Pharmacia Corp., which owns (b) Pharmacia & Upjohn LLC, which owns (c) Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. LLC, which in turn owns (d) Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. Inc. It is the great-great-grandson of the parent company.

Public records show that the subsidiary was incorporated in Delaware on March 27, 2007, the same day Pfizer lawyers and federal prosecutors agreed that the company would plead guilty in a kickback case against a company Pfizer had acquired a few years earlier.

As a result, Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. Inc., the subsidiary, was excluded from Medicare without ever having sold so much as a single pill. And Pfizer was free to sell its products to federally funded health programs.

Two years later, with Bextra, the shell company once again pleaded guilty. It was, in effect, Pfizer’s imaginary friend stepping up to take the rap.

“It is true that if a company is created to take a criminal plea, but it’s just a shell, the impact of an exclusion is minimal or nonexistent,” Morris said.

Prosecutors say there was no viable alternative.

“If we prosecute Pfizer, they get excluded,” said Mike Loucks, the federal prosecutor who oversaw the investigation. “A lot of the people who work for the company who haven’t engaged in criminal activity would get hurt.”

Did the punishment fit the crime? Pfizer says yes.

It paid nearly $1.2 billion in a criminal fine for Bextra, the largest fine the federal government has ever collected.

It paid a billion dollars more to settle a batch of civil suits — although it denied wrongdoing — on allegations that it illegally promoted 12 other drugs.

In all, Pfizer lost the equivalent of three months’ profit.

It maintained its ability to do business with the federal government.

Pfizer says it takes responsibility for the illegal promotion of Bextra. “I can tell you, unequivocally, that Pfizer perceived the Bextra matter as an incredibly serious one,” said Doug Lankler, Pfizer’s chief compliance officer.

To prevent it from happening again, Pfizer has set up what it calls “leading-edge” systems to spot signs of illegal promotion by closely monitoring sales reps and tracking prescription sales.

It’s not entirely voluntary. Pfizer had to sign a corporate integrity agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services. For the next five years, it requires Pfizer to disclose future payments to doctors and top executives to sign off personally that the company is obeying the law.

Pfizer says the company has learned its lesson.

But after years of overseeing similar cases against other major drug companies, even Loucks, isn’t sure $2 billion in penalties is a deterrent when the profits from illegal promotion can be so large.

“I worry that the money is so great,” he said, that dealing with the Department of Justice may be “just of a cost of doing business.”

Dr. Court’s Comments

This case sets a dangerous precedent.  It tells large pharmaceutical companies that they can get away with just about anything because the federal government is powerless to stop them.

When a company is criminally responsible for something they should have to pay the price.  While Pfizer makes many drugs that are life savers for many people, the vast majority of them are oversold and over hyped for reasons that are well illustrated above.

All too often drugs are pushed for their ‘off label’ use.  This means they are pushed by the pharmaceutical companies to be used for things they are not approved for.  Very frequently people are prescribed anti-depressants for anxiety or take an antihistamine to sleep better.  While they may work for these purposes, they are not intended or tested to be safe for those purposes.

I always ask my patients why they are taking a certain prescription even it is seems straight forward because I can never be too sure.

This is also why health care is so expensive.  Needless drugs drive up the cost for all of us.  In my opinion off label prescribing should be illegal and safer more conservative options should always be considered.

Large companies like Pfizer do not have the best track record when it comes to being ethical.  Big money leads to small minds when in terms of ethics and morality.  Billions and billions of dollars tends to cloud the mind apparently.

Until tight regulation of the pharmaceutical industry is achieved, these cases will continue to surface.  The bank collapse that occurred in the recent recession showed us that the financial industry needed tighter regulation.  I believe that, unfortunately, something terrible will have to happen before Big Pharma has someone watching over it.

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Welcome to our new blog! We are very excited about this addition to our clinic.  Here you will find up to date information about anything and everything health related.  Please check back often for information on the latest health topics!

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