(HealthDay News) — 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 Press 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) 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.

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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.

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 (AMA) was against the release of the Medicare database and claims it will 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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In a statement from Linda J. Burns, MD, president of the American Society of Hematology (ASH), also said the claims data should be put in context.

“While ASH supports greater transparency about Medicare physician payment and its potential to enhance the quality of the U.S. health-care system, the Society strongly believes that this incredibly complex data must be released with appropriate disclosures and explanatory statements that will encourage and facilitate value-based consumer decision making. Specifically, the numbers alone will not explain quality of care or account for specific drivers of cost such as specialty, location, supply costs, and support staff. The release of data without placing these aspects of care and others into context may result in inaccurate and misleading information for consumers,” Burns said.

“Greater transparency of Medicare provider payment has the potential to improve the quality of care nationwide for patients with hematologic diseases; however, data must be presented in the proper context to be valuable to the overall improvement of the U.S. health-care system.”

Health Highlights: April 9, 2014
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