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Doctor-owned firms that distribute medical devices supplied 19 percent of the products used in spinal surgeries billed to Medicare in 2011, according to an investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

In fiscal year 2012, Medicare paid hospitals a total of $3.9 billion for 178,789 spinal surgeries, or an average of $21,613 each, the report said.

In March, the OIG issued a special fraud alert warning patients about doctors who also own businesses that sell medical devices that those physicians may then implant in their patients.

Such businesses, known as physician-owned distributorships, pose substantial fraud and abuse risk and may be dangerous to patients, the OIG said at the time.

For several years, the inspector general, who is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has voiced concerns about physician-owned distributorships.

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