breaking news

NEW: One flown to hospital after bus, vehicle crash in Wellington

Patient who got $411,000 in care from Melgen praises eye doctor


Confined to a wheelchair and ravaged by diabetes, 71-year-old Maggie Bronson traveled from Belle Glade to West Palm Beach on Thursday to make sure a federal jury understood just how much Palm Beach County retinal specialist Dr. Salomon Melgen had done for her.

“I was so happy because I had given up on life because I couldn’t see anymore,” she told the jury, which will decide whether the 62-year-old ophthalmologist bilked Medicare out of as much as $105 million. “I said, ‘Lord, help me and recommend me to someone so I can see again.’”

Melgen, who gave her shots that helped restore some of the sight she had lost in her left eye, was a godsend, she told the jury.

But, federal prosecutors claim, Bronson was also a gift for Melgen.

Among the 76 charges of health care fraud that the wealthy, politically-connected physician faces is one that deals specifically with his treatment of Bronson. According to the indictment, between 2008 and 2013 Melgen billed Medicare $411,000 for performing various tests and procedures on Bronson that were medically unnecessary.

A nationally renown retinal specialist, who testified for the prosecution in the trial that began last month, described Melgen’s bills for his treatment of Brunson as “shocking.”

Dr. Julia Haller, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, analyzed photos Melgen took of Bronson’s eyes and declared many of them unreadable. That’s because Melgen didn’t administer the test correctly, Haller said.

When performing what is known as an indocyanine green chorioangiography, or ICG, dye has to be injected into a patient’s blood stream so it will light up the vessels in the eye when a doctor takes the image. Instead, Bronson said, because she had “bad veins,” Melgen allowed her to take the dye orally.

That meant the dye never made it to her eyes, Haller said. “It’s a sham test,” she said after being told Melgen billed Medicare for 135 ICGs for Bronson. “There’s nothing there.”

Haller also testified that other images Melgen took of Bronson’s eyes didn’t support his diagnosis that she suffered wet macular degeneration in both of them. Haller cringed when she learned Bronson, like scores of other patients, received dozens of laser treatments in addition to injections. Lasers, she said, are painful and potentially damaging.

Prosecutors have said that a staggering 98 percent of Melgen’s Medicare patients were diagnosed with the disease, which slowly robs the elderly of their sight. Most received a cookie-cutter regime of tests and treatment, prosecutors claim.

Melgen’s attorneys have said that Melgen’s high percentage of patients with wet macular degeneration isn’t surprising given the number of elderly people who live in South Florida. His clinics, after all, were in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Wellington and Port St. Lucie.

Further, a Lakeland ophthalmologist, who testified on Melgen’s behalf this week, said good doctors listen to their patients. If patients say their eyesight is improving after receiving what some might consider unconventional treatment, the doctor should “follow his gut,” said Harvard-educated Dr. Michael Tolentino.

In patient surveys taken by Melgen’s staff in 2012, Bronson reported that the injections and laser treatments Melgen gave her improved her eyesight. She said she didn’t know what was wrong with her eyes. Two other patients testified that their eyesight also improved when they were under his care.

Since she was the last witness of the day, Bronson was able to talk with Melgen after she testified. He took her hand and held it. She had already told jurors that she had resisted efforts by federal agents to criticize Melgen.

“I ain’t going to lie on him because he did lots for me. Why are you trying to put words in my mouth,” she said, recalling her words with the agents. “I didn’t want to say anything against him.”

A medical expert is to testify on Melgen’s behalf Monday. The trial is expected to wrap up later this month. Then, Melgen faces trial on corruption charges in New Jersey with his longtime friend, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Florida man visits cemetery daily, reads to 'my one and only love'
Florida man visits cemetery daily, reads to 'my one and only love'

Justino Jimenez celebrated his 77th birthday Tuesday and followed his usual routine. The Florida resident sat in his lawn chair at a local cemetery and read Bible verses to his wife, who died in 2015. Talking about Ana Mercedes Jimenez her still makes Justino Jimenez smile. “She was my one and only love,” he said. Jimenez visits his wife&rsquo...
US Rep. Brian Mast to hold town meeting in Jupiter
US Rep. Brian Mast to hold town meeting in Jupiter

Freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, who has drawn fire from Democrats and others for voting to replace the Affordable Care Act, plans a town hall event Thursday at the Jupiter Community Center from 1 - 2:30 p.m. Mast, (R-Palm City) lost his legs and suffered other injuries from a bomb blast while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. The meeting is...
LATEST: Miami duo faces drug charges after police find heroin in BMW
LATEST: Miami duo faces drug charges after police find heroin in BMW

City police arrested two Miami Beach residents after officers found them asleep in a black BMW parked halfway in a street a few blocks from City Hall, a spokesman said. Officers found Craig Campanella, 43, and Danielle Depass, 28, at about 4 p.m. in the vehicle on the 200 block of Southwest Pagoda Terrace, near Airoso and Port St. Lucie boulevards...
NEW: One flown to hospital after bus, vehicle crash in Wellington
NEW: One flown to hospital after bus, vehicle crash in Wellington

One person was flown to a hospital Wednesday afternoon after a school bus and a vehicle crashed at a busy village intersection, Palm Beach Fire Rescue said. Five children on the bus that crashed at Welligton Trace and Greenview Shores Boulevard were evaluated and released to their parents, said Capt Albert Borroto, Fire Rescue spokesman. This is a...
UPDATE: Florida officer charged with animal cruelty after K-9 dies in hot car
UPDATE: Florida officer charged with animal cruelty after K-9 dies in hot car

A Florida police officer has been charged with animal cruelty after his K-9 was found dead inside a hot patrol car in late April.  The dog, Diesel, was left unattended inside Sebastian police Officer Eric Antosia’s car while he went into the Brevard County courthouse on April 28, according to WPTV. It’s unclear how long he...
More Stories