Ten of the biggest U.S. banks are ready to pay back $68 billion of the $200 billion the government pumped into financial companies to keep them solvent, starting last year under President Bush, says U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

What Geithner didn't point out is that most of the companies ready for payback aren't the consumer, home, and business lenders that got in the worst trouble, and are most missed in the slow economy.

They're mostly investment banks and other specialized financial firms - such as Goldman Sachs, American Express, Northern Trust - which didn't need the money so badly and don't like the stigma it's created among Americans who object to taxpayer-backed bank bosses' pay, travel, and business practices.

Of the five largest U.S. commercial-and-consumer banks, only JPMorgan Chase & Co. is ready to buy its way off the government list.

Left with more than half the remaining debt from the program formerly known as TARP are JPMorgan rivals Citigroup and Bank of America Corp. Also not repaying yet are Wells Fargo & Co. (now the biggest lender in the Philadelphia region), and PNC Financial Services Group, the biggest bank based in Pennsylvania.

These are meat-and-potatoes lenders that may face more loan losses from troubled banks they've taken over, and which will likely need the government's money to absorb those losses, says bank analyst Richard X. Bove at Rochdale Securities.

Where does the payback go? To trim a little off our swelling government debt, and to "cushion" against "future financial instability that might otherwise jeopardize economic recovery," Treasury concluded.

Like toothpaste

Orthovita Inc. chief executive Antony Koblish says he'll add 50 salespeople and other new staff to its 250-member Malvern-based workforce by year's end, after the Food and Drug Administration gave permission to sell Cortoss bone substitute to treat spinal fractures.

The FDA cleared Cortoss relatively quickly because it's physically "equivalent" to other bone-repair cements, said FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley.

The difference is in how Cortoss is applied, said Dr. Philip Maurer, a partner in the University of Pennsylvania-affiliated 3B Orthopedics PC, which was principal investigator in FDA clinical trials of Cortoss for vertebral-compression fractures suffered by the elderly with osteoporosis.

"We've used for decades a cement that you have to mix, a powder and a liquid, with radiological material added" to track it through the body, Maurer told me. By contrast, "Cortoss is synthesized." It's pre-mixed, and "comes out like a toothpaste." Its finish "attracts bone cells to grow right on it." The clinical trial data shows better pain, strength, and re-fracture results, compared with earlier cements, Maurer told me.

Shares of Orthovita hit an eight-year high yesterday. Koblish, the chief executive officer, told me the company expected the first Cortoss surgeries "in about 30 days," and that he's targeted Cortoss sales at $100 million - more than the company's total sales for its existing bone and blood products - by 2012.

Bondholder activists

Small investors who put their savings into General Motors "baby bonds" for as little as $25 each, only to watch the once-solid investments melt into pennies on the dollar, have hired lawyer Michael Richman, head of the bankruptcy practice at Patton Boggs L.L.P. in New York, to plead for more.

The group wants federal bankruptcy trustees to recognize them as a special group, the "Family and Dissident Bondholders of GM," Richman told me.

"We'll seek equal standing with the institutional bondholders," said Mark Modica, business manager at Saturn of Doylestown and an activist in the small-savers' movement, which claims 1,500 members who hold around 10 percent of the nearly $5 billion in GM baby bonds.

Why do small investors deserve their own voice? Unlike the institutions and speculators who hold larger GM bonds, Modica said, "we don't have access to hedging strategies. We don't use credit default swaps. We don't have access to federal TARP funds." Just folks, he said, trying to get their retirement savings back.

Contact DiStefano at (215)854-5194 or jdistefano@phillynews.com.