An Oakland County oncologist under indictment for allegedly bilking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal Medicare insurance program for the elderly is among the highest-paid physicians in America, a new report shows.
Payment data – released for the first time in the nearly 50-year history of Medicare – shows that Dr. Farid Fata billed $10 million in 2012 and is among a small group of physicians nationwide earning $3 million or more, the Detroit News reports. The report, which analyzed payments to 880,000 medical providers, showed most Michigan doctors are earning about the same as their peers nationwide.
The $10 million payout made Fata, one of 7,374 providers in his field, the highest paid oncologist in the country, Bloomberg News said. He operates at least six oncology clinics under the name of Michigan Hematology Oncology PC.
The highest paid physician in Michigan was Dr. Godiali Vasso, a vascular surgeon in Bay City, who was paid more than $10.1 million. Overall, Michigan physicians were paid $2,433,228,199.
Internal medicine doctors in Michigan received the largest share – 14 percent – of Medicare payments in 2012, according to an analysis by the University of Michigan’s Center of Healthcare research and Transportation. Ophthalmologists earned 7.5 percent, family practice physicians earned 6.6 percent, and cardiologists earned 6.4 percent of 2012 Medicare payments in Michigan.
Report Helps Identify ‘Bad Boys’
Fata has been indicted in a sweeping Medicare fraud case and is accused of bilking $225 million from the program as part of a scheme that allegedly involved misdiagnosing patients and ordering unnecessary, painful and gruelling chemotherapy treatments. In addition to the fraud charges, Fata is also accused of federal money laundering charges.
In March, one of Fata’s former patients was among those testifying at a special U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. Patricia Gresko, 70, of Romeo said Fata was “personable and dignified” and she trusted him, so she didn’t question it when he diagnosed her with an immune system deficiency and ordered monthly intravenous treatments other doctors later said were unnecessary.
Over the seven-month course of treatment, she paid more than $1,500 in co-pays. She told the oversight committee she later learned Fata was reimbursed $14,000 in fraudulent Medicare billings.
Fata remains in a federal prison in Milan, where he is awaiting trial in August on a sheaf of charges stemming from four federal indictments. His $9 million bond was revoked after a federal judge ruled that Fata, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, is a flight risk. Fata, who was arrested Aug. 6, 2013, has denied the charges.
The data released Wednesday show U.S. physicians billed nearly $64 billion in 2012.
The data had some limitations – for example, context, illustrated by the circumstances surrounding the payout to the director of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-funded efficiency demonstration project at the University of Michigan, whose large payment was immediately disbursed among the 1,600 physicians and groups participating in the study.
Although the American Medical Association opposed the release because it lacked context, some Michigan physicians told The Detroit News similar data is already available from private insurance carriers.
“If all the commercial carriers and the managed care groups are doing this, why can’t Medicare do this?” Ewa Matuszewski, CEO of the 800-member Oakland Township physician group MedNetOne Health Solutions, told the newspaper.
“Tell me who my good guys are ... and who are my bad boys. Had we had this information years ago about ... (doctors such as Fata), we would have been able to get our arms around that and eliminate that problem.”
Fata Not Only Doctor Accused of Fraud
The newspaper said an Associated Press analysis showed that Fata isn’t the only physician among the tiny group earning $3 million or more from Medicare in 2012 who has been charged with fraud.That includes a Florida ophthalmologist who topped the list with payments of $20.8 million in 2012. Dr. Salomon Melgen allegedly has a cozy relationship with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ and made headlines last year when he used the doctor’s personal jet to make trips to the Dominican Republic.