Menendez intervened for Melgen on $8.9 million overbilling dispute
posted at 8:01 am on February 7, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Members of Congress often argue that all of the problems in Medicare and Medicaid can be solved by working on “waste, fraud, and abuse.” The good news is that Senator Robert Menendez has been hard at work on the problem. The bad news is that he’s been working to protect it, at least according to the Washington Post. Menendez attempted to intervene on behalf of his contributor and travel partner Salomon Melgen to prevent the government from collecting nearly $9 million Melgen overbilled at his eye clinics:
Sen. Robert Menendez raised concerns with top federal health-care officials twice in recent years about their finding that a Florida eye doctor — a close friend and major campaign donor — had overbilled the government by $8.9 million for care at his clinic, Menendez aides said Wednesday.
Menendez (D-N.J.) initially contacted federal officials in 2009 about the government’s audit of Salomon Melgen, complaining to the director overseeing Medicare payments that it was unfair to penalize the doctor because the billing rules were ambiguous, the aides said.
Last year, in a meeting with the acting administrator of the agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid, Menendez again questioned whether federal auditors had been fair in their assessment of Melgen’s billing for eye injections to treat macular degeneration, the senator’s aides said.
The agency had ordered Melgen to repay the $8.9 million, and at the time of both conversations, Melgen’s appeal was pending. That appeal is unresolved.
This seems to be the main reason for the FBI raid of Melgen’s offices in Florida last month. Given the level of the “overbilling,” it’s hardly surprising to anyone except Menendez that suspicions of deliberate fraud have arisen. Menendez’ office expressed their surprise to the Post that $8.9 million in overbilling might be fraudulent, claiming that Menendez has never intervened in an investigation of fraud.
This is the second intervention thus far known by Menendez on behalf of Melgen. He also attempted to intervene with Dominican Republic officials to get them to continue a lucrative contract with another of Melgen’s companies for port security — even though Melgen has no experience in the field. There are serious ethical and legal implications for these kinds of interventions on behalf of big donors, especially big donors who give free rides on private jets — or at least free until Menendez got caught, after which he had to cough up as much as 87% of his liquid assets. With Harry Reid about to make Menendez the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, this is a particularly bad time for Menendez’ alleged corruption to surface.
That’s not all of the bad news for Menendez, either. The FBI has decided to shift their investigation from Florida to Menendez’ back yard:
Two FBI sources have told The Daily Caller that the bureau’s inquiry into Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is now based in New Jersey, not Miami. One added that pressure is mounting from the highest levels of the Justice Department to pursue the investigation.
The change of focus away from the bureau’s Miami field office indicates that the government is focused primarily on Sen. Menendez — and not on his longtime donor Dr. Salomon Melgen, as political observers have speculated. …
One source, a current agent in an East Coast field office, declined to be quoted but told TheDC that the initial investigation began in Miami and was later moved to Newark, New Jersey.
He would not specify who was managing the investigation or when it was moved north.
The other source is a recently retired agent with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Maybe they found something in Melgen’s files that drew their attention to Menendez directly.