Nation & World Briefs 04-09-14 Medicare database shows top-paid docs receive at least $3M

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WASHINGTON -- Medicare paid a tiny group of doctors $3 million or more apiece in 2012. One got nearly $21 million.

Those are among the findings of an Associated Press analysis of physician data released today by the Obama administration, part of a move to open the books on health care financing.

Topping Medicare's list was Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, whose relationship with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., made headlines last year after news broke that the lawmaker used the doctor's personal jet for trips to the Dominican Republic. Medicare paid Melgen $20.8 million.

AP's analysis found that a small sliver of the more than 825,000 individual physicians in Medicare's claims data base -- just 344 physicians -- took in top dollar, at least $3 million apiece for a total of nearly $1.5 billion.

AP picked the $3 million threshold because that was the figure used by the Health and Human Services inspector general in an audit last year that recommended Medicare automatically scrutinize total billings above a set level. Medicare said it's working on that recommendation.

About one in four of the top-paid doctors -- 87 of them -- practice in Florida, a state known both for high Medicare spending and widespread fraud. Rounding out the top five states were California with 38 doctors in the top group, New Jersey with 27, Texas with 23, and New York with 18.

In the $3 million-plus club, 151 ophthalmologists -- eye specialists -- accounted for nearly $658 million in Medicare payments, leading other disciplines. Cancer doctors rounded out the top four specialty groups, accounting for a combined total of more than $477 million in payments.

Overall, Medicare paid individual physicians nearly $64 billion in 2012.

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