Senator Tom Coburn to continue practicing medicine, spokesman says

Saturday, September 24th 2005, 12:05 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn plans to continue practicing medicine beyond a Sept. 30 deadline imposed by the Senate Ethics Committee, Coburn's spokesman told The Oklahoman.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, will not accept any compensation and ``can practice on a purely pro-bono basis,'' John Hart, Coburn's press secretary, told The Oklahoman's Washington bureau.

Coburn has been accepting enough compensation to cover his expenses under an agreement with the Ethics Committee. The agreement called for him to ``wind down'' his medical practice to comply with Senate rules regarding professional affiliations.

A staff attorney with the Senate Ethics Committee declined to comment Friday on the matter.

Coburn has a general family practice in Muskogee, with much of his work devoted to obstetrics.

Coburn said earlier this year that he had paid his malpractice insurance premiums through December. Hart said the senator may have to pay other expenses out of pocket after Sept. 30.

Coburn is still hoping the Senate ultimately will allow him to continue practicing and accepting enough compensation to cover his expenses.

After a battle with the ethics committee in the House, where Coburn served from 1995 to 2001, Coburn was allowed to practice and accept fees to cover his costs.

Hart said Coburn had received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, that legislation would be offered on the Senate floor to address Coburn's situation.

Hart said he hadn't seen the legislation but suggested it would likely be ``narrow in scope, rather than broad,'' meaning it wouldn't be aimed at an overhaul of the 1977 Senate policy governing senators' outside professional work.

Hart doesn't expect that legislation to come up before Sept. 30.

The 1977 policy was designed to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure that senators devote their energy to their home-state residents, rather than professional clients.

Coburn contends he could still focus primarily on his Senate job while practicing medicine part-time and that his contact with patients _ many of them low income _ would enhance his work in the Senate.

The Senate Ethics Committee sent Coburn a letter in March responding to the senator's request to continue practicing until Sept. 30 and accepting enough compensation to cover his expenses.

That letter states, in one section, that ``the Committee approves your request to be given through September 30, 2005, to wind down your care of your existing patients.''

It concludes by saying the committee expects that, by Sept. 30, ``you will cease entirely the practice of medicine for compensation of any kind during your Senate service.''

Hart said Coburn would still be seeing his existing patients but that, by not accepting payments, Coburn would be complying with the agreement.