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.
Push for continued funding: Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region are lobbying colleagues to continue funding a cleanup program for the inland seas. Forty-six House members from both parties recently sent a letter to leaders of a subcommittee that recommends spending on the environment. It requests $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program usually gets about that much for projects dealing with threats such as toxic pollution and invasive species. President Barack Obama's 2015 budget would cut it to $275 million.
To cut Air Force and Navy nukes: The U.S. will keep its current force of 450 land-based nuclear missiles but remove 50 from their launch silos as part of a plan to bring the U.S. into compliance with a 2011 U.S.-Russia arms control treaty, the Pentagon said Tuesday. The resulting launch-ready total of 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles would be the lowest deployed ICBM total since the early 1960s. The decisions come after a strong push by members of Congress from the states that host missile bases -- North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana -- to not eliminate any of the silos from which the missiles would be launched. Fifty silos will be kept in "warm" status -- empty of missiles but capable of returning to active use.
Get high-profile support: Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are getting a dose of high-profile support for their nationwide effort to help military families. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole are joining Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's wife at the White House on Friday to help call attention to the millions of people who care for ill or wounded service members and veterans. A RAND Corp. report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and released last week estimates that there are 5.5 million military caregivers in the U.S., including more than 1 million who look after veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides military caregivers, the report classifies nearly 17 million other people as civilian caregivers.
Says he cooperated with feds: Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday that he cooperated with federal officials in wiretapping interactions with Mafia contacts in the 1980s and would do it all again if his life was threatened. He said he has made mistakes in his decades as an activist but has always made the right choice when it came to hard decisions."I'm not a mobster; I'm a preacher," he said at a news conference at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem.
Vote to allow strike in Kentucky: Workers at the General Motors plant in Bowling Green, Ky., that assembles Corvettes voted Tuesday to authorize a strike over lingering safety concerns, but a local union leader said he hopes the differences can be resolved without a walkout. Union members voted overwhelmingly to give union leaders the green light to call a strike if necessary. About 800 union workers were eligible to vote, and more than 90 percent of those casting ballots backed the strike authorization, said Eldon Renaud, president of United Auto Workers Local 2164. Renaud said issues involved were safety and quality control.
More underwater pings heard: A ship searching for the missing Malaysian jet has detected two more underwater signals that may be emanating from the aircraft's black boxes, and the Australian official in charge of the search expressed hope today that the plane's wreckage will soon be found. Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search for the missing plane in the southern Indian Ocean, said that the Australian navy's Ocean Shield picked up the two signals on Tuesday, and that an analysis of two sounds detected in the same area last week showed they were consistent with a plane's black boxes.