A recent OIG report links the growing presence of physician-owned distributorships, or PODs, to increased spinal surgery volumes and potentially increased Medicare costs. The OIG notes a “substantial presence” of PODs in the spinal device market, with PODs supplying spinal devices for 19% of the spinal fusion surgeries billed to Medicare in FY 2011. According to the OIG, hospitals that purchased devices from PODs performed more spinal surgeries in 2012 than hospitals that did not purchase from PODs, and hospitals increased the rate of growth in the number of spinal surgeries after they began purchasing from PODs. Hospitals identified surgeon preference as the strongest influence on their decisions to purchase spinal devices from PODs. The OIG also disagrees with PODs’ claims that their devices cost less than those from other suppliers; rather, in the categories examined by the OIG, the devices cost the same as or more than devices from companies not owned by physicians. This fact, coupled with increased volumes, according to the OIG, could increase overall Medicare costs over time. In addition, the OIG raises concerns about inconsistencies in hospital policies regarding physician disclosure of ownership to either hospitals or their patients of interests in PODs (although the OIG suggests that the new “Sunshine Act” disclosure rules may improve the ability of hospitals and patients to identify physicians’ investment in device companies).  For a case urging an alternative perspective on PODs, see the report on our sister blog, lifescienceslegalupdate.com, about a recent complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that seeks a declaration that the OIG’s Special Fraud Alert on PODs unfairly and unconstitutionally burdens First Amendment rights of free speech and due process. The complaint defends the lawfulness of the physician-owned model, and characterizes the Fraud Alert as the result of a multi-year lobbying campaign by “Big Corporations” forced to compete with small physician-owned entities. For more details, see our full report.