How many patients who need an implanted joint device such as a hip replacement know that the orthopedic industry generally has a no warranty policy? Far fewer than you would think. Makers of heart devices offer warranties, warranties that cover their products for several years, as well as free and discounted replacements. Does this mean that the makers of other implants don’t have faith in their products or that they just don’t care about the patients whose insurance doesn’t’ cover the expensive replacements, or the medical costs incurred from repeat visits to diagnose and solve the problems caused by their products? Patient advocates say that it is appalling that such critical implants are not warranted, and that this practice borders on unethical business behavior.
For example a patient named William Morris has an artificial hip which is only 3 years old. The failure of this hip implant caused Mr. Morris to not only have to endure yet another painful surgery to replace the implant, but also to pay out nearly $50,000.
When the manufacturer responded to Mr. Morris’ doctor they made no mention of their liability to cover the replacement cost for the device, even though it is expected to be trouble free for up to 15 years. What the manufacturer wants is for the part to be returned to them for evaluation and to help them figure out how to stop these implants from failing in the future.
If you purchase anything from a computer to a blender, you do so with the knowledge that there is a product warranty for a certain amount of time, to make sure that you are protected from loss if the product is faulty. The patients who receive the million or more artificial joints in the United States each year have no such guarantee. When these implanted joints fail the cost of replacement falls on patients, Medicare and insurance companies. The manufacturers even show a profit for failed devices because they sell the replacement for full price. The only time that manufacturers seem to cover some of the costs incurred by their failing products is when they are faced with lawsuits. These companies know that they should be responsible for their product, but because they have not had to take responsibility for so many years, they have not made the strides necessary to protect the patients who are in desperate need of their products.
Zimmer Holdings is one such manufacturer who goes so far as to say that “Because of the multifactorial nature of the survival of an implant in a particular patient, revision surgeries are to be expected. Therefore, we do not provide free or discounted replacement revision products when one of Zimmer’s implants needs to be revised.” Basically they are saying that the products are expected to need revisions, so they don’t feel the need to warranty them.
It is important that the FDA, and the orthopedic surgeons force more accountability on the part of the manufacturers, warranties need to be implemented, and responsibility taken.