Washington - In 2012, two Florida-based doctors who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups supporting Democratic Party campaigns billed Medicare for $39 million dollars.
One of the two high roller Democrat donor doctors has been the subject of federal investigations regarding his Medicare billing practices and is directly linked to a scandal involving Democrat Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey.
For his part, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, 59, an ophthalmologist from North Palm Beach, Fla., got paid $21 million in Medicare reimbursements for 2012 alone, according to New York Times report published Thursday.
Dr. Asad Qamar, a cardiologist from Ocala, received more than $18 million from Medicare in 2012, and a pathologist from New Jersey raked in $12.6 million from the government-run healthcare program. Ten doctors received more than $10 million in Medical reimbursements.
Democrat Harry Reid (Nev.) the Senate leader who slavishly pushed the controversial and unpopular Obamacare healthcare bill through the Senate without one Republican vote benefited from more than $700,000 donated by Dr. Melgen's firm through Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to the Senate majority leader.
The super PAC also spent $600,000 to help re-elect Democrat Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey who later became a target of an investigation after intervening between Dr. Melgen and a federal investigation. Menendez is also under fire for accepting flights on the doctor's private jet while serving as a U.S. Senator, according to the report.
Federal records show Dr. Qamar has donated more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee and other state-based branches of the Democratic Party around the United States. Qamar also donated to both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns and gave money to groups associated with Mr. Obama.
Revelations of Medicare fraud coupled with large payments made by those involved to major Democrat Party operatives could prove troubling for Democrat Senate candidates who already face a difficult election season due to the unpopularity of Obamacare and backlash from NSA surveillance programs perceived as over-the-top invasive by most Americans.
Wednesday, during an interview, Dr. Qamar said "any questions about his Medicare bills are unjustified."
A federal investigation conducted in 2007 and 2008 concluded that Melgen over-billed Medicare by $9 million. The government forced Melgen to repay the money; however, the doctor was not punished and was allowed to continue doing business with Medicare.
Federal lawyers argued that the doctor, “seeks to game the system by seeking reimbursement of three to four times its actual costs.” Medicare normally pays doctors 6% above their cost for medications.
Melgen became the subject of the 2007-2008 federal investigation when a Medicare contractor reported that, as a single practitioner, he was charging far more than other doctors for Lucentis, an expensive drug used to treat macular degeneration.
According to the Times, federal investigators determined Melgen was using one vial of the medicine to treat 3 to 4 patients but billing Medicare as if he had purchased a new vial each time. Investigators say the doctor's firm was reimbursed $6000-$8000 for vials that cost him $2000.
The solvency of Medicare, one of the country's largest entitlement programs, has been in question for some time and the system is rife with corruption. Adding to its financial woes, Pres. Obama cut the program by over $700 billion in order to pay for Obamacare, an executive order the administration prefers to call "savings."
To deal with federal lawsuits and investigations, Dr. Melgen hired the former head of the Justice Department’s Medicare fraud task force, Kirk Ogrosky, as his defense attorney. During a federal lawsuit filed to retrieve the $9 million from Melgen Mr. Ogrosky argued that what the doctor's firm was doing is not illegal.
As the investigation went south, Melgen contacted Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez for help. The senator's aides acknowledged to investigators that Menendez proceeded to contact the Medicare director at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and discussed the Melgen investigation at a meeting. To date, Dr. Melgen's clinics have been raided twice by FBI agents and Mr. Menendez continues to face federal scrutiny.
Democrats, who must defend more Senate seats in 2014 then Republicans, could be hurt by the development of yet another healthcare scandal when Americans are mulling over significantly higher health insurance premiums later this year.