(WZZM) -- The government released Medicare payment data for 880,000 providers last week in part so the public — and journalists — could double-check the information for fraud.
WZZM's Watchdog Team has been looking through the information and our Alex Shabad talked with one of the doctors on the list.
Some people may not believe their eyes, after seeing newly released numbers that show how much some ophthalmologists are costing Medicare.
"We'd hate to see people make decisions based on these numbers alone," says Dr. Parin Gohel, an ophthalmologist in Grand Rapids.
New numbers show ophthalmologists and oncologists at the top of the list for Medicare costs. WZZM 13 found doctors in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Holland charging Medicare millions of dollars. Below is a list of doctors and the amount they were paid by Medicare in 2012:
- Dr. Yosef Gindzin, ophthalmologist in Grand Rapids -- $4.1 million
- Dr. Alan Campbell, hematology/oncology in Grand Rapids -- $1.5 million
- Dr. Eric Batts, hematology/oncology in Holland -- $1.7 million
- Dr. Paul Raphaelian, ophthalmologist in Muskegon -- $2.4 million
- Dr. Kathryn Alguire, medical oncology in Muskegon -- $1.7 million
Nationwide, the average Medicare reimbursement for a doctor was about $87,000. However, Dr. Gohel says the numbers don't translate into profit, when considering the cost of medications, like Lucentis, used to treat macular degeneration.
"These medicines tend to be very expensive, $2,000 a drug an injection, so that billing shows for me I'm billing $2,000, but that all goes straight to the pharmaceutical companies," explained Gohel.
WZZM 13 asked Dr. Gohel if taxpayers should be wondering why one ophthalmologist is spending so much on expensive drugs.
"Great question, I think that's the direction as a whole Medicare needs to move to, I think its very dangerous when you start looking at individual doctors," says Dr. Gohel.
To be clear, the high billing numbers does not mean the doctors are doing anything wrong. In fact, they say they're doing the right thing for their patients, but nationwide some doctors are being investigated for fraudulent billing.
"It tells us what we are doing and how we are doing, but unfortunately it's misleading," says Dr. Yosef Hamati, an orthopedic surgeon in Muskegon. Dr. Hamati billed medicare for more than $1 million.
"I know you're picking on me and you're saying my billing was a million dollars, you know how much Medicare paid me out of that million? $500,000," said Dr. Hamati.
WZZM 13's Alex Shabad pointed out that $500,000 still seemed like a lot of money.
"Again you're comparing apples to oranges," says Dr. Hamati. Dr. Hamati says the data doesn't consider quality of care, staffing costs, or the age of his patients. "I've been in practice for 36 years, 90% of my patients are over 70," says Dr. Hamati.
"The problem when you look at these types of numbers is how to interpret it," says Dr. Gohel.
Both doctors would like patients and taxpayers seeing clearly on an issue as important as healthcare.
You can look through the database yourself below. The blue bars represent total Medicare payments in 2012, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If you hover over the bar, you can see details as to how much was billed and how much was paid out. This list only includes individual doctors paid at least $150,000.