In an era of soaring health care costs, one word rarely encountered is "free," but local doctors will, for a few days in December, offer no-charge hip and knee replacement surgeries for patients who qualify.
Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream and Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan will provide the operations for a few needy patients who are either uninsured or underinsured. Both hospitals are part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.
Dr. Giles Scuderi, vice president of North Shore-LIJ's orthopedic services, will perform surgeries at Franklin. He has been offering the free service since 2011. Dr. Matthew Hepinstall of the Center for Joint Preservation and Reconstruction at Lenox Hill has signed on to perform free surgeries there.
"My feeling about this is to be philanthropic," said Scuderi, a specialist in total knee replacement. "This is my opportunity to give back to the community and basically to help patients who are underserved."
Scuderi and his staff will evaluate potential candidates. They have not yet decided how many operations will be performed. However, the estimate Friday was probably no more than five or six.
To qualify, candidates must live within an hour's drive of the hospital and have an income 100 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. For an individual, that would mean an income ranging from $11,670 to $23,340. For a family of four, the range would be $23,850 to $47,700. The federal government released new poverty guidelines in February.
Candidates also will have to undergo physical evaluation.
The free joint replacement program is part of Operation Walk USA, a medical humanitarian organization that provides free total hip and knee replacements to patients nationwide. It's aimed at people who do not qualify for government assistance programs and cannot pay for the surgery on their own.
Last year, 235 total hip and knee replacement surgeries were performed through the program, said Scuderi, a member of the organization's board of directors. He said surgeries were performed at 80 sites nationally by 110 participating surgeons.
As in the past, everything involved with the joint replacement will be provided as part of the deal, ranging from anesthesiology services to rehabilitation.
Free medical care isn't entirely the domain of orthopedics. Other medical specialties and even pharmaceutical companies offer free services and medications in programs often not well-publicized. On Long Island, participating ophthalmologists, for example, have offered free cataract surgery for years through Mission Cataract USA.
The Healthcare Bluebook, an online resource of health care costs, puts the fair price of a total hip replacement at $22,606, which includes the $8,000 implant. The same source estimates the price of a total knee replacement at $22,720, including $8,000 for the implant.
Asha Jacob, a physical therapist and administrative director of orthopedics at Franklin Hospital, said the implants are being donated by their makers.
Many people in need of hip and knee replacements are encumbered by osteoarthritis, a wear-and-tear condition characterized by the degeneration of the joint's cartilage as well as the underlying bone, Jacob said.
The pain, she added, can be excruciating for a condition commonly seen from middle age onward.
To inquire about free joint replacement, contact Jacob at 516-256-6517.