Health & Family

15 Mecklenburg doctors received more than $1 million from Medicare in 2012

Fifteen Mecklenburg County doctors received more than $1 million in reimbursement from Medicare in 2012, based on data released Wednesday by the federal government.

Five ophthalmologists, five rheumatologists, three oncologists, a dermatologist and a pathologist were in the top 15. They are among more than 3,000 Mecklenburg medical providers who received Medicare money in 2012.

In addition to doctors, the providers included nurse practitioners, physician assistants, chiropractors, physical therapists and licensed clinical social workers. Some received less than $1,000. The data do not include Medicare reimbursements for doctors who bill through a corporation rather than as individuals.

Dr. Andrew Laster, a Charlotte rheumatologist who received $1.2 million from Medicare in 2012, said he agrees that “transparency is important.” But he said the data could lead to some incorrect conclusions.

For example, he said 80 percent of his reimbursement was for infusion therapy in his office. His cost for those “very expensive” drugs comes out of that Medicare reimbursement, along with salaries and other overhead.

“People should not think that this is $1.2 million in profit,” said Laster, whose partners, Dr. Ahmad Kashif and Dr. Robert Kipnis, are also in the Top 15.

Laster said infusion therapy, while costly, results in savings by improving patients’ quality of life, reducing the need for joint replacements and lowering the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.

Also, he said infusion therapy costs two or three times more if done in a hospital. “Physicians who do not offer in-office infusion therapy will have dramatically lower Medicare reimbursement data but could be costing society much more in overall health care costs” because they refer patients to hospitals, he said.

At a time when some doctors have stopped accepting Medicare patients, Laster said he and his partners “continue to see Medicare patients and are shouldering that burden. If you’re a doctor and you’re not seeing Medicare patients, your numbers are not going to appear here.”

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