A growing number of medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed against doctors who told patients they needed artery-clearing atherectomy procedures to save their legs. Instead, these patients needed amputations due to complications from the procedures.
An investigation by the New York Times found examples of patients who had only mild or symptomless artery disease, but ultimately needed amputations after doctors performed a large number of unnecessary atherectomy procedures.
Some of these doctors were earning millions of dollars per year by billing the high-cost procedure to Medicare and Medicaid.
Investigators noted that from 2017 through 2021, about 200 high-volume doctors were paid about $1.4 billion from Medicare, which amounts to 50% of all of Medicare’s atherectomy payments.
They also discovered a skyrocketing increase in atherectomy procedures over the past decade, mostly driven by a group of high-volume doctors who work in outpatient clinics rather than hospitals, according to ProPublica.
Lawsuits allege that some of these doctors immediately recommended atherectomy procedures for patients with early-stage artery disease, billing each atherectomy procedure for $10,000 or more.
In some cases, patients were told they would lose their legs unless they underwent multiple atherectomy procedures. Instead of saving their legs, dozens of these patients had to have their legs amputated.
There are approximately 10 to 12 million people in the U.S. with peripheral artery disease, a disease that is caused by the build-up of plaque on the walls of blood vessels.
Left untreated, artery disease commonly leads to poor circulation in the legs and leg pain when walking. However, less than 5% of people with narrowed arteries develop limb-threatening complications.
Only the end stage of peripheral artery disease carries a significant risk of limb loss, according to experts. This is why the best care for most patients is exercise, medications, and lifestyle changes.
One of the most prolific atherectomy doctors is Dr. Jihad Mustapha, who is facing numerous lawsuits from angry patients who needed patients. One of the plaintiffs, Kelly Hanna, said he performed 18 atherectomy procedures on her legs in less than two years. Instead of saving her legs, she had to have her leg amputated in mid-2020.