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Federal investigation of Sen. Bob Menendez pal revolves around drug injected in patients' eyes

A South Florida eye surgeon who’s a friend of a U.S. senator is under federal criminal investigation for billing Medicare millions of dollars to treat elderly patients for services they may not have needed, The Herald has learned.

Federal agents began investigating Dr. Salomon Melgen last year, sources say, after investigators suspected he overbilled the taxpayer-funded health program by using a high-priced drug called Lucentis, which is injected into patients’ eyes.

The agents raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach offices last week. He’s also under FBI examination for his ties to Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, who tried to help Melgen with another Medicare dispute.

Several sources familiar with the doctor’s practice said he used the drug, which costs $2,000 a vial, to treat patients with macular degeneration more than any other ophthalmologist in Florida and possibly the country. His high patient volume also raised red flags for investigators, the sources said.

Under Medicare policies, a doctor may only prescribe treatment that is “reasonable” and “necessary.” To make a case, federal prosecutors would have to prove that Melgen needlessly treated patients simply to run up sky-high Medicare bills.

Melgen, whose lawyers have denied any wrongdoing, finds himself in the middle of two federal investigations: His Vitreo-Retinal eye clinics in West Palm Beach and two other South Florida sites were raided last week by agents with the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services, who are investigating possible Medicare fraud.

A separate FBI examination revolves around the doctor’s relationship with Menendez and the trips they took on his private plane to Melgen’s villa at a resort in the Dominican Republic.

Melgen donated more than $750,000 last year to Menendez’s reelection campaign and other political committees and candidates.

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