NEW YORK – Medicare paid almost 4,000 doctors and medical providers more than $1 million apiece in 2012, including seven who received more than $10 million. Eye doctors were among the highest compensated, including one Florida ophthalmologist who received $21 million.
The listing, gleaned from 880,000 providers paid by Medicare, was released this morning. The data, the first look at physician payments by the agency in more than 30 years, showed that most spending fell to a small group of doctors, with less than 3 percent taking in about 28 percent of the $64 billion paid out to individual providers.
While consumer groups have urged the release of payment details to spotlight fraud or the overuse of services, some doctors said the data incorrectly showed them as making millions of dollars from Medicare when their billing codes were shared by others, unfairly putting them in a bad light.
“This is an enormous event,” said Bob Kocher, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama for health care policy, in an interview. “What it’s going to help us do for the first time is figure out what these doctors actually do and what kinds of patients they actually see.”
While drug and hospital costs have been scrutinized, less attention has been paid to doctor fees, which accounted for about 12 percent of Medicare’s budget in 2012. Making the data available may allow the public and researchers to better monitor waste within the $604 billion system run by Medicare, the health plan for the elderly and disabled.
Cancer doctors specializing in blood work and radiation received the most compensation, according to the data, averaging over $360,000 in annual payments. Ophthalmologists were second on the list released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.