Judge to hand down verdict in 'hoverboard' dentist Medicaid fraud trial in January
The outcome of a case against an Anchorage dentist accused of Medicaid fraud and endangering his patients now rests in the hands of a judge who listened to closing arguments from attorneys on both sides Friday.
Dr. Seth Lookhart, 34, is facing more than 40 charges. According to court documents, he and his former office manager Shauna Cranford pushed Medicaid patients to undergo intravenous sedation needlessly in order to bill Medicaid for the service.
They were both charged in April 2017.
"The cost for the IV sedation is generally not included in the patient's $1,150 annual limit for non-emergency procedures," the Department of Law explained in a news release at the time. "This practice quickly became very lucrative for Dr. Lookhart resulting in his practice alone being responsible for 31% of the total Medicaid payments for IV sedation in 2016."
During Lookhart's six-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence of what they believe to be theft, fraud, a scheme to defraud and reckless endangerment. This included several text messages Lookhart exchanged with Cranford and other medical professionals, testimony from former patients and — perhaps the most notable piece of evidencecthe hoverboard video.
A 25-second video shows Lookhart floating into an exam room. He appears to remove a tooth from a sedated patient, then pivots and rides away on a hoverboard, tossing his gloves in the air, removing his mask and flashing a smile at the camera.
"It's a complete disregard of a human being, turning her into a joke. Why? Why," state attorney Joan Wilson questioned Friday.
Wilson, who is prosecuting the case with Eric Senta — an attorney with the Office of Special Prosecutions — said she debated delivering her closing argument while standing on a hoverboard.
"I decided I couldn't, under rules of professional conduct," Wilson said, adding, "and I don't have a patient sitting under half of my body, and I don't have an instrument that can jab into their face if I fall."
Defense Attorney Paul Stockler addressed the video, calling Lookhart's actions "stupid," "arrogant," and "ridiculous," but questioned whether they amount to a crime.
"He came out on a hoverboard. Did a basic, simple extraction, in less than five seconds, and went off. The patient wasn't harmed, and they made a big deal about it," Stockler said.
As for the many other accusations regarding IV sedation, Stockler blamed a "loophole." He claims the wording of Medicaid guidelines did not prevent Lookhart from billing for sedation for the comfort of a patient.
"Look, what he was doing, I think the door was open and he kicked it in, but that should've put the state on notice to hey, maybe take a look at this guy and do an audit. Look at his bills. But they didn't. They just kept paying them," Stockler said.
Stockler said he's been contacted by other dentists who have billed Medicaid for sedation under similar circumstances.
"They selectively chose to go after Dr. Lookhart because a door that was open, a door that was used by every dentist, unfortunately Dr. Lookhart did more than everybody else combined, and so he became a good target," he said.
Stockler said even after the state clarified the rules, there's still confusion among providers.
"If there's much confusion, judge, there's reasonable doubt on behalf of the state of Alaska, on behalf of Medicaid, and certainly for your honor," he said.
Wilson argued that patients under Lookhart's care could have died under unnecessary and prolonged sedation, and that Lookhart defrauded a system meant to care for Alaska's vulnerable populations.
"It's not just a paper crime. It's a property crime. It's theft. It's embezzlement. It's betrayal of a program whose sole purpose is to pay for the medical care of children, the disabled and the poor. I want to talk to you about the patients," she said, "but who also gets hurt like this? People who work hard for a living. People who pay taxes. Real federal taxes. Our state whose general funds make up 50% of the matching funds for medical care for dental care."
Wilson wrapped up her statements by saying, "these are the actions and words and deeds of a petulant manchild, who never thought he was gonna get caught."
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton is expected to hand down a verdict in January.
According to online court records, Cranford accepted a plea deal in October. Her sentencing is scheduled for February.
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