Patients flocked to Dr. Salomon Melgen, looking for relief of serious eye conditions. The West Palm Beach, Fla. eye specialist returned their trust by thrusting needles painfully in their eyes and searing their retinas with lasers. It was a festival of worthless and botched procedures that left patients with damaged eyes.
For Melgen, the payoff was a $136-million filching of Medicare and taxpayers. He became a rich man replete with a luxury mansion until investigators, well, saw through his shortsighted eye ruses.
The Harvard-trained specialist was well-known and sought-after, especially for seniors with eye problems. Their misery became his path to insurance wealth.
Melgen treated up to 100 patients a day. He falsely diagnosed most with debilitating diseases, even when most had no disease. Macular degeneration was his most-common bogus diagnosis. It’s a retina disease that can permanently sap the vision of seniors 65 and older. The prospect of an incurable descent into blindness made patients take whatever treatment the expert in the white coat said they needed.
Painful eye injections
That often meant painfully injecting expensive medicines into their eyes, then billing Medicare. Melgen often had his staff fill out medical charts and diagnoses before he even saw patients. Medicare paid him for 37,075 injections in 2012 alone — more than 100 per day. Tests often were done in just seconds, making them worthless for diagnosing. Melgen’s average insurance haul was more than $23,000 per patient.
Some seniors had a plastic prosthetic eye, yet Melgen billed Medicare for testing and treating serious eye conditions. Other patients had eye conditions that were too far gone to benefit from treatments. Melgen still soaked Medicare with batteries of tests and treatments.
Anna Borgia had painful injections and laser treatments for supposed glaucoma and diabetes-related sight loss. Melgen then botched a surgery that left her nearly blind, she testified. She says she’s confined to her home, listening to the TV and paying drivers to take her to the grocery store.
Developed eye infections
Melgen convinced a 90-year-old woman to have laser treatments and injections. She later said she didn’t need the treatments — she had no eye disease. Patients developed eye infections from injections. Fully one of every 13 patients grew infected. That was “astronomically high,” an expert testified at his trial. Normally only about one in 3,300 patients are infected, experts said.
Randy Frick’s attorney read a letter saying Melgen convinced his 90-year-old mother to get laser treatments and injections. He later learned they were unneeded because his mother has no eye disease.
“She underwent systemic torture at the hands of Melgen,” wrote Frick, who drove his mother to the appointments. “I feel so guilty I have nightmares.”
Melgen played another billing trick on Medicare — give patients partial doses of medicines, bill Medicare for a full dose, then bill again for using the remaining meds in the vile. That turned a $2,000 vial into a $6,000- $8,000 insurance windfall.
Melgen was handed 17 years in federal prison in February 2018.
“I love dancing but what man wants to take a blind woman dancing?” Anna Borgia told the judge.