TALLAHASSEE - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is reviewing allegations that lawyers, lenders and doctors may have been involved in a scheme that led to women being enticed into corrective pelvic mesh implant surgery.
An article published by the New York Times detailed allegations that doctors practicing in the state, and companies based here, are part of the scheme.
"We are aware of this article and currently reviewing the allegations," Kylie Mason, press secretary for Attorney General Pam Bondi, told the Florida Record.
More than 100,000 women claim they have been damaged by mesh implants, with manufacturers setting aside $3 billion to cover settlements, according to the Times story.
But it is claimed, in court documents and by individuals, that some women have been enticed into corrective surgery, paid for by third party funders after being contacted by cold calling marketers, all as a way to increase the amounts expected to be awarded following lawsuits.
American Medical Systems manufactures pelvic meshes and is being sued.
In court documents reviewed by the Florida Record, filed in federal court in West Virginia, AMS asked for a preservation order so as to allow the company to forensically examine the electronic devices belonging to Surgical Assistance and Wesley Blake Barber.
Surgical Assistance and Barber, both based in Florida, are named as non-parties in a case taken against AMS. The motion was denied.
In its pre-trial order, the court said that the claim was that the mesh was defective, causing harm to the body and leading to complications, such as chronic pain and scarring. Some plaintiffs have undergone surgery to revise the implanted mesh or remove it altogether.
Magistrate Judge Cheryl Eifert further stated, "In the course of discovery, AMS learned that a portion of the plaintiffs had their corrective surgeries arranged and funded through third-party funding companies."
She wrote, "According to AMS, these arrangements were frequently complex, often expensive, and occasionally unnecessary, as some of the plaintiffs receiving the funding had health insurance to cover similar procedures.
"AMS was stymied in its efforts to discover the details of the funding arrangements from the plaintiffs, who seemed to know little more about them than AMS. Confronted with a lack of transparency regarding a key element of damages.
"AMS began seeking information from non-parties, including Surgical Assistance and Barber, about the third-party funding of corrective surgeries. At issue were both the cost and the medical necessity of the procedure."
In its story, the New York Times stated that lawyers building such cases sometimes turn to marketing firms to drum up clients.
"The marketers turn to finance companies to provide high-interest loans to the clients that have to be repaid only if the clients receive money from the case," the reporters wrote.
"Those loans are then used to pay for surgery performed by doctors who are often lined up by the marketers.
"Interviews with dozens of women, lawyers, finance executives and marketers, as well as a review of court records and confidential documents, indicate that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women have been sucked into this assembly-line-like system. It is fueled by banks, private equity firms and hedge funds, which provide financial backing."
Barber, in a deposition found by the Times, stated that his company found doctors in Florida and Georgia to perform the surgery.
In one online ad, an actor in a white lab coat assures women suffering from their mesh implants that relief is near, the Times report states. They can call a toll free number and will be connected to "qualified surgeons" without need for upfront payments.
Women were then flown to Florida and Georgia, put up in motels and sent to walk-in clinics, according to court filings. The women spoken to by the Times generally didn’t meet the doctors who would be operating on them until shortly before the procedure. .
Each procedure typically cost about $21,000, according to lawsuits brought by women against the mesh manufacturers, the Times reported. Of that, doctors pocketed roughly $3,500 per surgery; most of the rest went to the medical centers where the surgery took place.
Asked for her opinion after reading the article, Mary Terzino, an attorney with expertise of the legal lending business, said,"My thought was that this article describes a racket in which lenders, lawyers and doctors are combining forces to prey on the vulnerable. It is an appalling abuse of the civil justice system."