My Dad and I used to play basketball together nearly every day in a park out back of our apartment. The hoop was only about nine and a half feet, so he could touch the rim, which seemed pretty incredible to my nine year old self. When I (we) got older and I became too good at basketball for us to compete, we could still play tennis, a game that is nearly as mental as it is physical. Even when I could run circles around my dad, I wasn’t fast enough to cover the whole baseline against his precise serve and volley attack.It has been more than five years since my father and I have played any sport besides golf together. The reason is that his hips are congenitally weak, and like his mother, aunt and sister, my Dad needed his deteriorating hip replaced before he was 50. In fact, he had to get both replaced with metal ball and socket joint that they told him would last about 10-15 years.
After surgery, my dad took years to recover as he struggled to fit physical training in a busy work routine. Today, he is nowhere near as mobile as he was a couple years before the surgery and the solution is hardly pain free. But so far, discomfort and decreased mobility is the only major side effect.
Thousands of Americans are not so lucky. They’re finding out that the painful and expensive procedure to replace the sensitive hip joint may have included installing a faulty part. This is tragic news for those who sacrificed a great deal of time and resources to feel better, and it’s going to cost a ton to fix.
According to a lengthy report in the New York Times, “Medical and legal experts estimate the hip failures may cost taxpayers, insurers, employers and others billions of dollars in coming years, contributing to the soaring cost of health care. The financial fallout is expected to be unusually large and complex because the episode involves a class of products, not a single device or just one company.”
The issue is that metal on metal hip replacement joints are failing within a few years of their installation, instead of the promised 15. Patients feel as though they’ve been sold a false bill of goods, and want some measure of restitution. They are heading to the courts en masse to find it.
The infamous DePuy hip replacement product was recalled last year, and so far 3,500 cases have been filed. The Times referenced a decade-old case also dealing with metal hip replacements from Sulzer Orthopedics that cost the company $1 billion in damages. This case is expected to “dwarf” Sulzer’s.
DePuy is attempting to work on a case-by-case basis to help finance the cost of the corrective surgeries, but the Times reported that results have been mixed, at best. Many patients’ expenses have not been covered in full, and all signs are pointing to an enormous amount of litigation of the Johnson and Johnson division.
More than 125,000 hip replacements were performed in the US last year, and a third of them involved the metal on metal joint system.
That’s the same system my dad has sitting in either hip. We’re lucky that so far, he hasn’t had the issues with infection and sharp pain that can come when metal rubs on metal and splinters.
But thousands of Americans who hoped to turn their lives around with surgery are getting far more surgery and expenses than they bargained for, with poorer results than they were promised. Right now, individuals are footing most of the bill.
But Forbes expects manufacturers will eventually shell out $5 billion to correct the defective system. That money might cover the tangible costs, but it certainly won’t do much to restore consumer confidence. Even for those whose surgeries have thus far been successful, it now feels like a waiting game. But instead of a surgery looming 15 years down the road, the worry is that at any moment, another extremely expensive, invasive, painful surgery could be necessary.