We can’t wait for Harry Reid and Chuckie Schumer to hit the Senate floor today decrying the nefarious connections between their colleague Bob Menendez and a wealthy doctor who just happens to be the largest recipient of Medicare payments in the land, all while under investigation. Just imagine if there was a Koch brother angle to exploit here. But hey, Menendez is one of their own and the fact his buddy reaps a windfall while actively being investigated is all just a wild coincidence.
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 Wednesday 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.
Democrats love to pretend they hate big money in politics, yet they turn a blind eye when they’re the ones getting the dough.
Melgen, the top-paid physician in 2012, has already come under scrutiny. In addition to allowing the use of his jet, the eye specialist was the top political donor for Menendez as the New Jersey Democrat sought re-election to the Senate that year.
Menendez’s relationship with Melgen prompted Senate Ethics and Justice Department investigations. Menendez reimbursed Melgen more than $70,000 for plane trips.
The issue exploded in late January 2013, after the FBI conducted a search of Melgen’s West Palm Beach offices. Agents carted away evidence, but law enforcement officials have refused to say why. Authorities declined to comment on the open investigation.
You would think someone under investigation might be barred from raking in Medicare money, but since he’s a fatcat Democrat donor how dare you even question this.
Authorities said the grand jury inquiry centers on allegations that Melgen overbilled the federal government for Medicare treatment for his eye patients, which he has denied. FBI agents raided his office in West Palm Beach earlier this year and left with boxes of material. According to sources, FBI agents and federal prosecutors in South Florida are reviewing that material and other potential evidence, as well as interviewing witnesses.
Separately, sources said, prosecutors in Washington assigned to the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice are reviewing whether Menendez improperly interceded on Melgen’s behalf in the healthcare fraud investigation, and tried to hide the fact that Melgen provided him expensive airplane tickets to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has denied interfering in the healthcare investigation, but did recently acknowledge that he should have repaid Melgen $58,500 for the two plane rides on Melgen’s personal jet in 2010. He said he has since done that. The Senate Ethics Committee, meanwhile, is reviewing why the senator did not disclosure the flights much sooner.
Since 2006 Melgen and his family have given Menendez and the New Jersey Democratic Party almost $175,000 in political contributions.
If Melgen was a top donor to Republicans he’d be a household name by now.
Melgen, his wife Flor and his daughter Melissa have been generous donors to Menendez, his fellow Democrats and related causes in recent years. Yet in an interview last spring with Bloomberg, Melgen insisted that he “did not ask Sen. Menendez or any public official to intervene.”
In the same interview, the doctor said he and Menendez had “become like brothers, like friends,” talking to each other every week and seeing each other once a month until the first news broke.
The matter of Melgen’s billing practices, meanwhile, has taken more twists and turns in recent months. The doctor sued the federal government in August related to his Medicare claims, with authorities asking to suspend his Medicare payments three weeks later, according to Melgen’s lawyer. Just last Friday, Melgen filed a motion seeking an injunction to stop the government.
He sues the government while at the same time pulling in $20.8 million. Great work if you can get it.