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Health Highlights: April 10, 2014

Sebelius Stepping Down as HHS Secretary Some Doctors Paid at Least $3 Million Each by Medicare

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Sebelius Stepping Down as HHS Secretary

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is stepping down from her position, after overseeing the troubled rollout of the contentious health reform law known as the Affordable Care Act that remains unpopular with some Americans and virtually all Republican lawmakers.

President Barack Obama accepted Sebelius' resignation this week. On Friday, he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to succeed Sebelius, The New York Times reported Thursday evening.

Sebelius' resignation came one week after the close of the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, which is sometimes called Obamacare and is considered the president's signature domestic legislative achievement. Intended to bring health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, the program surprised many observers by enrolling 7.1 million people -- largely through online "exchanges" -- by the March 31 deadline for the first signup period.

But the first weeks of the law's introduction last fall were marred by disastrous website glitches that prevented many people from signing up for coverage. And those missteps provided ammunition for GOP legislators who have opposed the law since it was first proposed.

Publicly, Obama stood by Sebelius as the website problems were slowly corrected. But in a telling sign, she was not present at the news conference last week as Obama triumphantly announced that enrollments through the online exchanges had exceeded seven million people, the Associated Press reported.


Some Doctors Paid at Least $3 Million Each by Medicare

A small number of doctors received at least $3 million each in Medicare payments in 2012, for a total of nearly $1.5 billion, according to an analysis of Medicare claims data released Wednesday by the White House.

In total, Medicare paid individual physicians nearly $64 billion in 2012. The median payment was just over $30,000, the Associated Pres reported.

Of the more than 825,000 doctors in the database, 344 earned at least $3 million each. At the top of the list was Florida ophthalmologist (eye specialist) Dr. Salomon Melgen, who earned nearly $21 million, the AP reported.

Last year, it was revealed that Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., used Melgen's personal jet for trips to the Dominican Republic.

The AP analysis showed that 87 (1 in 4) of the top-paid doctors practice in Florida, followed by California (38), New Jersey (27), Texas (23) and New York (18). The data also showed that 151 ophthalmologists were among the 344 doctors in the $3 million-plus club and that they took in a total of nearly $658 million in Medicare payments.

Cancer specialists were fourth in line, with a combined total of nearly $477 million.

Medicare is taxpayer-financed, but doctor payment data has not been available to the public until now. Doctor groups tried to prevent release of the data, claiming it would be an invasion of doctors' privacy, the AP reported.

Consumer groups, insurers, employers and news organizations wanted the data made public, arguing that it could help patients find doctors who provide quality, cost-effective care, the AP reported.

A federal judge's ruling last year paved the way for the release of the data, which could also be used to learn more about health care costs in an attempt to control them.

The American Medical Association was against the release of the Medicare database, claiming it would do more harm than good. For example, the data may contain inaccurate information and does not provide useful facts about the quality of care, the AP reported.

The AMA wants doctors to be able to review their information before it is released.

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