The world’s No. 1 maker of medical devices, Medtronic, has agreed to pay $23.5 million to settle federal allegations that it provided kickbacks to doctors who implanted its pacemakers and defibrillators.

As Reuters reports, the U.S. Department of Justice accused the Minnesota-based company of making illicit payments to physicians of $1,000 to $2,000 per patient, and then submitted false claims involving the expenses to the government’s Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Federal officials said Medtronic kicked back the money to doctors by compensating them, if they used the company’s products, for what are known as postmarket studies and device registries. Postmarket studies assess the performance of medical devices or drugs after they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Registries are collections of data concerning devices implanted in patients.

“Patients who rely on their healthcare providers to implant vital medical devices expect that those decisions will be made with the patients’ best interests in mind,” Tony West, an assistant attorney general, said in a Justice Department news release. “Kickbacks, like those alleged here, distort sound medical judgments with financial incentives paid for by the taxpayers.”

The company admitted no wrongdoing. The settlement will provide about $4 million to two whistleblowers who filed lawsuits exposing the kickbacks.

Separately, Medtronic remains under investigation by the Justice Department and the U.S. Senate over its practices in marketing a bone growth product used in spinal fusion surgery called Infuse. The probes coincide with a report in June by an influential medical publication, The Spine Journal, that said that surgeons who were paid tens of millions of dollars by Medtronic wrote evaluations of the drug that downplayed, or ignored, serious and widespread side effects.

The unreported complications included, among various other problems, cancer and sterility in men.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

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