Two doctors from Florida who received the nation's highest Medicare reimbursements in 2012 are both major contributors to Democratic Party causes, and have used the political system in recent years to protect themselves from accusations that they may have submitted fraudulent or excessive charges to the federal government, The New York Times
The Department of Health and Human Services released for the first time this week data showing Medicare payment records to doctors. There appears to be a link between large Medicare payments to certain physicians who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic political campaigns and PACs.
Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist from North Palm Beach, Fla., who received $21 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2012, donated more than $700,000 to Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Another was Dr. Asad Qamar, an interventional cardiologist in Ocala, Fla., who was paid more than $18 million in 2012. He has sent at least $250,000 in donations over the last decade to the political campaigns of President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats, according to the Times.
The doctors have defended themselves, saying suspicions about their compensation are unjustified.
"Just looking at the sheer volume of work and billings from a single physician is not a sign of wrongdoing," Qamar told the Times. He said his practice handles cardiac procedures in its outpatient clinics that would often be done in hospitals, hence the large billable amounts.
Qamar, meanwhile, is currently under review by Medicare officials after they detected patterns that lead them to suspect there may have been inappropriate or excessive bills.
He received $18.2 million in 2012, more than any other cardiologist in the United States.
Qamar has sent more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee and other state-based branches of the Democratic Party around the country, and has donated to both of Obama's presidential campaign as well as Democratic congressional campaigns across the country.
Qamar used a prominent law and lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, and a former Justice Department official and Capitol Hill aide from the firm, to contact more than a dozen members of Congress asking them to persuade the federal government to back down.
Melgen, meanwhile, was investigated after a Medicare contractor noticed that he was billing for a medication at much higher rates than his peers. Melgen hired the former head of the Justice Department's Medicare fraud task force, Kirk Ogrosky, to defend him.
As the dispute continued, Melgen contacted his friend, New Jersey Democratic state Sen. Robert Menendez to intervene on his behalf. Menendez called the Medicare director at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2009 and brought it up at a meeting with the acting administrator in 2012, according to the Times.
Ultimately the investigation concluded that in 2007 and 2008 alone, Melgen overbilled by $9 million, which he was forced to pay back, according to the Times. Both he and Menendez are now under federal scrutiny and FBI agents have raided Melgen's clinics twice.
"At all times, Dr. Melgen billed in conformity of Medicare rules," Ogrosky said in a statement. "While the amounts in the CMS data release appear large, the vast majority reflect the cost of drugs."
Ogrosky declined to discuss the doctor's relationship with the senator or his campaign contributions, the Times reported.
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