Attorney general says Senate candidate committed fraud

Friday, October 15th 2004, 6:12 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's attorney general said Thursday he has no doubt that Republican Senate candidate Tom Coburn, an obstetrician, committed Medicaid fraud 14 years ago when he didn't fully disclose medical procedures he performed on a 20-year-old woman.

Allegations from the woman, Angela Plummer, have become an issue in Coburn's race against Democratic Rep. Brad Carson.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma's top legal officer and a Democrat who supports Carson, told The Associated Press fraud arises from the fact that Coburn failed to include on a Medicaid reimbursement form the full procedure he performed on Plummer.

Coburn denied any fraud occurred and said the case has been brought up to smear him.

Plummer had come to him with an ectopic pregnancy, a dangerous condition in which an embryo was growing in her fallopian tube. Coburn surgically removed the tube and tied off her other fallopian tube, leaving her sterile.

Medicaid did not pay for sterilization procedures for people under 21 and when it came time to seek Medicaid reimbursement, Coburn didn't describe the removal of the healthy fallopian tube.

Edmondson said that if Coburn had described the full procedure, Medicaid would have refused to pay anything and that Coburn, therefore, ``got paid for something that he would not have been paid for if he had submitted the claim accurately.''

Edmondson said the statute of limitations had run on the case and it is not under investigation by his Medicaid fraud unit.

``Was there a problem at the time? The answer is yes,'' he said.

He said it was mandatory that Coburn report the sterilization of a minor on the Medicaid form and ``failure to make that report would invalidate the claim for the procedure that was compensable.''

``In all honesty, if this had been an isolated occurrence, it would have been unlikely that he would have been prosecuted,'' Edmondson said. ``That does not negate the fact that the manner in which he submitted his claim constituted Medicaid fraud.''

Carson has begun running a new television commercial, criticizing Coburn over the episode involving Plummer.

Tulsa attorney Walt Haskins, who represented Coburn during the lawsuit, asked how Coburn could have committed Medicaid fraud when he didn't charge for the procedure.

``That's the thing no one will give a straight answer to, certainly not Drew Edmondson, who is a very political Democrat from Muskogee, Oklahoma,'' Haskins said. ``Dr. Coburn operated on this patient, saved her life, didn't charge a penny more to do this procedure because he had her abdomen open up anyway.''

Haskins said he isn't part of the Coburn campaign and became involved because ``this happened on my watch.''

``At some point, the truth has to come out over what's purely partisan politics. It's just an outrage,'' Haskins said.

Plummer sued Coburn, saying she never consented to the sterilization, but ultimately failed to pursue the case and it was dismissed.

``Sterilization, Medicaid fraud, cover-up. Tom Coburn: unfit to be our senator,'' the narrator says in the ad.

John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said the ad is false.

``Brad Carson is lying,'' Hart said. ``And he knows it.''

Hart said Howard Pallotta, general counsel for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, has said he could see where a doctor could appropriately bill for only one of two procedures performed.

Mike Fogarty, chief operating officer of the authority, said Pallotta had responded to a hypothetical question ``which may or may not apply to this specific situation.''

Rick Buchanan, spokesman for Oklahoma '04 Victory, the state Republican Party's coordinated state campaign, called the ad mudslinging and ``a vicious and malicious assault on Dr. Coburn's medical practice.''

The Carson campaign defended the commercial and pointed to a deposition in Plummer's case in which he said he excluded mention of the sterilization procedure on the Medicaid form and asked her not to talk about it.

``For Tom Coburn to speak about anyone's integrity is shocking considering the fact that this is a man who admitted to fraud under oath, sterilized a young woman without her consent and then tried to cover it up by asking her to lie about it. Tom Coburn is unfit to be our next United States senator,'' said Kristofer Eisenla, Carson spokesman.

Hart said it was ``an abuse of his office'' for Edmondson to take part in what he called ``a partisan witch hunt.''

``He's far from an impartial source,'' Hart said.

The spokesman also said the ad's claim that Coburn asked the woman not to talk about the sterilization was ``a blatant lie.''

Hart said Coburn asked her not to say anything because ``he was trying to protect his patient so she wouldn't be stuck with medical bills.''

Coburn and Carson are locked in a tight race for the post that Republican Don Nickles is leaving after 24 years and the contest could be pivotal in the battle for control of the Senate.

Coburn's medical practice is in Muskogee. Edmondson is a former Muskogee County district attorney, who was elected to that post in 1982, 1986 and 1990.