Kudos to Star Tribune for raising spinal surgery questions

And for doing so in the heart of Medtronic country, as the Strib reminds readers:

The state is home to Medtronic Inc., the world’s largest maker of devices used in spine surgery, as well as Abbott Northwestern Hospital, which performs more spine fusion surgeries on Medicare patients than any other hospital in the country, according to the industry publication Orthopedic Network News.

We applaud the newspaper for pursuing this story, one that was recommended to them months ago by me and other members of the Minnesota Shared Decision Making Collaborative, including Dr. Craig Christianson, who is quoted in the piece. It’s part of an occasional Star Tribune series, “Too much medicine? When less is more in health care.”

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Dennis (Investigator/Negotiator) at Medical BillDog

August 9, 2010 at 11:01 am

I’m not in Minnesota (Austin, TX), my disc was disintegrating and really had to be removed, and the components (two rods, four screws, four “blockers,” a cage, and a growth enhancing product similar to Medtronics’s Infuse) were produced by a company named Stryker, not Medtronics. I had my surgery in October 2008.
Still, despite the differences, I have some long-standing questions about the costs of my surgery. In particular, I was unable to get the Stryker sales reps to call me back and tell me what they charged the hospital for my supplies. The bill that went to my insurance company lists the hardware total cost as $86,962.00. Imagine my surprise when I read the Star Tribune article claim that fusion surgery varies from $25K to $80K, in toto. Seriously, for one discectomy and arthrodesis, the cost of the hardware alone was over $86K (the total cost of the surgery was over $130K). Now, I understand that quality assurance requirements drive up the cost of even the simplest hardware in medical applications, but for the one little, threaded plastic cage that went into the space previously held by my L5/S1 disc, the hospital charged $33,617.00. That’s a piece of milled plastic the same width as and two-thirds the length of my pinky finger. And, $7848.00 apiece for four 7.5 cm long titanium screws? Hell, for that price, I could get screws made of platinum.
Again, I wouldn’t class my surgery as unnecessary, but I would dearly love to know what the Stryker folks charged for those pieces.