Broward News

West Palm Beach Doctor Bills for More Medicare Reimbursements Than Any Other Doctor in the Country

Salomon E. Melgen lives in a 5,000-square-foot North Palm Beach mansion. He travels by private jet to the Dominican Republic with New Jersey senators. He's the subject of not one but two current FBI investigations. The 59-year-old eye surgeon has yet another claim to notoriety now, the New York Times reports this morning.

Although the multimillionaire ophthalmologist's online biography states Melgen isn't a "cookbook doctor," a data analysis of Medicare has led some to think he might be cooking his books. In 2012 alone, he billed the government for $21 million in reimbursements.

He's far from the only Florida health professional who's raising eyebrows -- Asad Qamar, an Ocala cardiologist, was paid $18,154,816 by Medicare that year, and Alexander Eaton of Fort Myers got back $10,726,482.

Just because someone has bills that high doesn't mean he or she is guilty of fraud. It's entirely possible that all three doctors operated within the rules. But scores of former controversies suggest Melgen, at least, is no stranger to fudging facts.

See also: Medicare Fraud Is Sweetest Crime in South Florida

He has been accused in the past of "multidosing," or using a single vial of medicine on multiple patients. He was ordered to pay back $9 million after the FBI investigated last year. He's also prone to jet-setting with Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat who was forced to return the cost of travel for the trips he took on Melgen's private jet.

And he's also known for being reckless with money. The Palm Beach Post reported in February of last year that the doctor had lost tens of millions in a wide range of investments. He was duped by a Ponzi scheme in 2005. A bad investment in an online fantasy sports site cost him $5.9 million in 2012.

"At all times, Dr. Melgen billed in conformity with Medicare rules," the doctor's lawyer told the Times. And that is entirely within the realm of possibility.

Regardless, Florida is pretty much ground zero for Medicare fraud and has some pretty bizarre characters practicing medicine. Last October, Miami's own Christopher Wayne was arrested for scamming $1.2 million in government money. Better-known as the "Rock Doc," Wayne was prone to wearing CBGB shirts and spiking his hair before he was carried away from his $1.7 million Miami Beach home.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.