The Norman Transcript

Columns

April 15, 2014

First, do no harm — to your bank account

(Continued)

NORMAN —

For his part, the doctor donated $700,000 to a Democratic political action committee that gave $582,000 to Menendez’s re-election efforts. So far, Melgen’s friendship with Menendez has failed to deflect the FBI’s interest.

Second on the national scoreboard of Medicare’s top billers is Dr. Asad Qamar, an Ocala cardiologist who was paid $18.2 million in 2012. He told the New York Times that his charges are fair, and that the sum is so large partly because he works in an outpatient facility for which the government pays added fees.

Like Melgen, Qamar is an enthusiastic donor to Democrats, including President Obama. He gave more than $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee, and distributed other contributions to congressional candidates in five states, including Florida.

After federal auditors began examining Qamar’s bills, the doctor hired lobbyists to contact more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers, seeking relief from the scrutiny. “The auditors put an astronomical burden on us, in terms of manpower,” he told the Times.

An astronomic burden caused by astronomical billing.

Any physician who rakes in $18 million from Medicare in 12 months deserves special attention, because such a massive volume of medical claims definitely isn’t business as usual.

In fact, according to a Times analysis, only about 2 percent of doctors collected almost 25 percent of the country’s Medicare payouts in 2012. Expanding that graph, just 25 percent of doctors accounted for 75 percent of Medicare’s total spending, which reached $77 billion that year.

It’s hardly a shocker that Florida leads the way. No place in the nation hosts more Medicare fraud prosecutions, a grim distinction.

The good news is that the conviction rate is high; the bad news is that we could quadruple the number of prosecutors, and they’d still be overworked.

Meanwhile, soaring Medicare costs cut deeper and deeper into federal tax revenues. The program is so huge that it practically defies effective auditing, but certainly a much better job of that could be done.

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