A prominent Florida eye doctor was found guilty of healthcare fraud and political corruption today for compromising the health of his patients to overbill Medicare for tens of millions of dollars. The seven-week trial consisted of shocking details and discoveries about the doctor, his practice and the potential influential conspirators who helped him game the system by garnering large sums of money.
Salomon Melgen was convicted of 67 counts, including falsifying medical records and submitting fictitious Medicare claims. Melgen's practice, called Vitreo-Retinal Consultants of the Palm Beaches, had billed Medicare more than $190 million over the span of 5 years. Of this amount, $105 million has been credited to unnecessary medical procedures and fabricated diagnoses.
According to the indictment, Melgen frequently falsely diagnosed patients with rare blinding eye condition, wet macular degeneration, as a part of his plan to defraud Medicare. Expert testimony revealed that he applied the treatments for this condition to patients whose maculae appeared to be completely normal and properly functioning.
Prosecutors and defense teams presented vastly disparate depictions of the doctor. Prosecutors presented evidence and provided testimony that displayed the doctor as one who was only interested in self-referral. They claimed that a large portion of the money he received went solely towards personal finances, rather than upgrading his outdated, and potentially hazardous medical equipment. Prosecutors also mentioned that his use of thermal laser regimens was deemed inappropriate and high-risk, especially with the existence of newer, safer medical treatments for wet macular degeneration.
The defense team portrayed Melgen as a man who deeply cared for his patients, and who had also built a reputation of rendering quality services. In fact, some of Melgen's former patients who were called to the stand gave testimony favorable to the doctor. One in particular, was a 79-year-old man who claimed that his vision is now 20/20 after a series of treatments ran by the doctor. He does, however, admit to undergoing cataract surgery conducted by another physician. Another elderly patient testified that Melgen gave him hope that his vision would soon be restored despite not recovering from blindness.
“If he was still in business… I still would go to him,” the patient testified.
The prosecution fired back that the patient's vague understanding of the billing process and their limited experiences with the doctor made them oblivious to the fact that they were excessively subjected to unneeded medical procedures.
Melgen will face another criminal trial, where he has been accused of bribing New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to assist him with outside business interests. He has also been accused of asking the senator to lobby for him in the midst of billing disputes. Their relationship dates back to nearly a decade. If he agrees to testify against Menendez in the upcoming trial, he could reduce his current sentence of life in prison.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of a medical professional, you may be entitled to compensation. The skilled attorneys at Benassi & Benassi are willing to fight for you. Contact them today for a consultation.