A Japanese medical device company is under fire after they reportedly hiked prices for scopes that were intended to replace tainted devices linked to an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria. The Los Angeles Times, citing emails obtained from the University of California-Los Angeles, recently reported that that Olympus Corp. charged UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center 28 percent more for the new scopes.
Three died and five others were sickened by bacteria in the scopes, which were snaked down patients’ throats during gastrointestinal procedures. After doctors found the source of the outbreak, the center asked Olympus to replace the scopes. Instead, the company offered to sell UCLA 35 more for $1.2 million, or $33,470 per scope. The university had purchased Olympus scopes for $26,200 each just 11 months earlier. In addition, the report suggested that Olympus aggressively sought to sell scopes amid as hospitals bought new devices in response to the crisis. Olympus only recalled the scopes in January — roughly one year after UCLA doctors identified the problem.
Olympus had long been a partner of UCLA, but that relationship soured in the wake of the outbreak, according to the emails. University officials told the Times that it switched to rival Pentax to purchase new scopes, but that some Olympus scopes remain in use at Reagan.
Olympus spokesman Mark Miller, meanwhile, attributed strong recent financial results to new products — rather than on hospitals’ high demand for new scopes — and told the Times that the emails with UCLA “represent standard business discussions within Olympus and between company personnel and customers.”
The company also reportedly blamed UCLA doctors for the outbreak in the first of several wrongful death cases. UCLA countered that Olympus never raised concerns about its cleaning procedures. The pricing allegations, meanwhile, are just the latest problem for Olympus.
A U.S. Senate report in January linked its tainted scopes to 25 outbreaks, and the company last month agreed to pay $646 million over alleged illegal payments to doctors and hospitals in the U.S. and Latin America.