By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A South Florida doctor with campaign finance ties to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., took in a whopping $20.8 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2012, according to an Associated Press analysis of physician data released by the Obama administration.
Salomon Melgen, a West Palm Beach ophthalmologist, was tops among 825,000 individual physicians, half of which received $30,265 or less.
But the first-place ranking won’t likely earn Melgen an exalted status among his medical peers. Rather, the revelation comes amid a cloud of suspicion surrounding the politically connected Floridian.
Melgen’s office, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, was raided by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in January. The Miami Herald reported “the search-and-seizure raid has ties to a possible Medicare fraud inquiry.”
In 2009, Medicare auditors determined Melgen’s company overbilled the federal insurance program to the tune of $9 million over a two-year period.
Menendez, an avowed friend and political beneficiary of Melgen’s largesse, twice went to bat for Melgen by raising concerns with federal health officials about whether the Medicare audit was fair, reported the Washington Post.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Melgen and his family members gave $426,000 in campaign donations since 1992, “a huge portion of which went to Menendez or organizations with which he’s affiliated.”
- $33,700 to Robert Menendez
- $60,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by Menendez 2009-11
- $50,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee
Russ Choma of the Center of Responsive Politics called these donations “the tip of the iceberg.”
“Melgen’s business, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, also gave $700,000 to Majority PAC in 2012, the super PAC set up to support Senate Democrats. Majority PAC spent about $600,000 to back Menendez in his (2012) reelection.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., both received about $10,000 each from Melgen. He also contributed $5,000 to a Republican PAC called Democracy Believers.
The AP physician analysis found that one in four doctors who raked in more than $3 million in Medicare payments practiced medicine in Florida, including, Asad Qamar.
Qamar, a Central Florida cardiologist, received $18 million from Medicare in 2012. Qamar gave $250,000 over the past 10 years to the political campaigns of President Obama and other prominent Democrats, reported the New York Times.
A New Jersey doctor received the third highest Medicare reimbursement total in 2012 at $12.6 million.
Menendez’s relationship with Melgen became national news in late 2012 when the senator reimbursed Melgen for several trips he took to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s private jet. Menendez is alleged to have met with Dominican prostitutes, though he categorically denies having done so.