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Data uncover nation‚€™s top Medicare billers - The Washington Post

The government insurance program for older people paid nearly 4,000 physicians in excess of $1 million each in 2012, according to the new data. Those figures do not include what the doctors billed private insurance firms.

The release of the information gives the public access for the first time to the billing practices of individual doctors nationwide. Consumer groups and news outlets have pressured Medicare to release the data for years. And in doing so Wednesday, Medicare officials said they hope the data will expose fraud, inform consumers and lead to improvements in care.

The American Medical Association and other physician groups have resisted the data release, arguing that the information violates doctor privacy and that the public may misconstrue details about individual doctors.

Among the highest billers were: a cardiologist in Ocala, Fla., who took in $18.1 million, mainly putting in stents; a New Jersey pathologist who received $12.6 million performing tissue exams and other tests; and a Michigan vascular surgeon who got $10.1 million.

Some of the highest billing totals may simply reflect a physician who is extremely efficient or who has an unusually large number of Medicare patients.

The highest numbers also may reflect a physician who specializes in procedures that require costly overhead, and in those cases, a large portion of the money may wind up not with the doctor but with pharmaceutical companies or makers of medical devices.

But in some instances, the extremely high billing totals could signal fraudulent doctor behavior, as government inspectors have previously found.

Indeed, three of the top 10 earners already had drawn scrutiny from the federal government, and one of them is awaiting trial on federal fraud charges.

The greatest tallies also may signal that the Medicare payments for some procedures are too high for the amount of work involved or that perverse incentives lead doctors to