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Report: Medicare paid millions for stent implants

WASHINGTON — A Senate investigation found that Medicare spent millions of dollars for stents implanted by a Maryland doctor accused of putting them in patients who didn’t need them, according to a report released Monday.

The investigation also found that the doctor was treated to an elaborate crab feast and barbecue by Abbott Labs, the maker of the stents. The stents are tiny, metal-mesh tubes used to keep unclogged arteries open.

The report released by the Senate Finance Committee said Dr. Mark Midei’s questionable implantations cost the Medicare program $3.8 million between 2007 and 2009. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee’s chairman, said the case could be a sign of a larger national trend of wasteful medical device use.

“Doctors should not be performing invasive medical procedures patients don’t need, and taxpayers certainly shouldn’t be paying for these wasteful and improper implantations,” Baucus said.

The report also said Abbott placed Midei on its list of top stent volume cardiologists. After St. Joseph Medical Center hospital in Towson, Md., barred Midei from practicing, the company hired the doctor to promote and prepare safety reports for its stents in Japan and China, the report said.

Midei’s attorney, Stephen L. Snyder, said the committee’s investigation was not thorough, relying on documents without subpoenaing his client.

“I don’t believe they made any findings and to suggest that having a barbecue at one’s house implies some type of favoritism is ridiculous,” Snyder said. “It’s done all the time, it’s not a big deal.”

The report also contained excerpts of e-mails from Abbott executives discussing how to contain negative press coverage.

“Do I need to send the Philly mob?” a senior Abbott employee asks in one e-mail, according to the report.

Abbott spokesman Jonathon Hamilton said the company’s consulting relationship with Midei ended early this year. He said that the e-mails and actions mentioned in the report were being addressed internally, adding that the company recognizes “there were some inappropriate individual communications.”

Hamilton said that patient treatment is the company’s highest priority.