No joke: Doctors pocketed $77 billion from Medicare in 2012

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The Obama administration on Wednesday released a trove of data on the health care services that physicians and other health care providers delivered in 2012 — and how much Medicare paid out for them.

Its data dump, posted at midnight ahead of a formal announcement Wednesday morning, is designed to make the health care system “more transparent and accountable,” said a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services blog post this month.

More than 880,000 health care providers across the country collectively took in $77 billion in payments during 2012 under Medicare’s fee-for-service program, according to CMS.

An early look at the data by The New York Times revealed that 2 percent of doctors accounted for nearly a quarter of the billions paid out, with some doctors taking in millions in a single year.

Groups like the American Medical Association objected to the data release, saying its form “will not allow patients or payers to draw meaningful conclusions about the value or quality of care.”

** FILE ** This Jan. 31, 2010, file image released by Miami Dade College shows Dr. Salomon Melgen, posing for a photo at the book signing of "Growing American Roots," a book by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., at the college in Miami. (AP Photo/Miami Dade College, Phil Roche, File)

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** FILE ** This Jan. 31, 2010, file image released by Miami ... more >

“We believe that the broad data dump today by CMS has significant short-comings regarding the accuracy and value of the medical services rendered by physicians,” it said in a statement. “Releasing the data without context will likely lead to inaccuracies, misinterpretations, false conclusions and other unintended consequences.”

A South Florida ophthalmologist, Salomen E. Melgen, whose close relationship with Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, came under scrutiny last year, received $21 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2012, The Times reported. His lawyer put out a statement saying the doctor “billed in conformity with Medicare rules” at all times.

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