Seth Lookhart, the Anchorage-based dentist who made himself infamous after filming himself performing a procedure on a patient while riding a hoverboard, appeared in court for the first time to face his charges. Both the dentist and his office manager, Shauna Cranford, face serious criminal charges for Medicaid fraud after allegedly performing medically-unnecessary procedures and funneling the profits away from a former employer. Cranford faces 16 charges, ten of which are felonies.
Lookhart was forced to forfeit his passport at the hearing, after Judge Jennifer Henderson ruled that he posed a significant flight risk due to his significant financial resources and his ownership of a dental clinic in Brazil. His bail was set at $250,000.
In August of last year, a former employee tipped off state officials that Lookhart was increasing profits by using intravenous sedation in unnecessary and even potentially risky situations. Also known as IV sedation, this procedure involves injecting a sedative directly into the veins of a patient. Most private insurances wouldn’t cover this procedure due to its high cost, but Medicaid considered it an option for emergency care, or when a patient was extremely nervous or unsteady. This allowed the costs to fall outside a patient’s annual Medicaid cap, but required a physician’s written justification.
The justifications submitted by Lookhart frequently said simply “comfort” or “anxiety,” which state officials say is not adequate to justify the cost. Medicaid paid over $170 for every 15 minutes of IV sedation, compared to nitrous oxide gas, a far more common sedative, which fetched a flat fee of $57.
In total, the state says Lookhart billed them for $1.8 million in IV sedation fees in the year 2016 alone, more than 30 percent of all charges billed by all 57 dentists state-wide.
Lookhart moved to Alaska and began practicing in 2014 in an office which served mostly Medicaid patients. It wasn’t until March 2015 that Cranford joined his practice as the office manager, and suggested he become licensed in IV sedation. In early 2015, Medicaid paid around $27,000 to his practice each month; by the start of 2017 that number had risen to $436,000.
Lookhart is also facing charges of performing medically unnecessary procedures. When the state’s Medicaid reform bill passed, it also ended coverage for some procedures and change classifications for several others. Among those changes: a certain type of filling which Lookhart was frequently using as a way to distribute more IV sedation. Instead, he and Cranford allegedly started discussing different options, and started pushing patients towards tooth extractions, even when one was not necessarily the most prudent option.
By July of this year, the filling procedure’s billing was less than ten percent what it was previously while extractions had risen by 74 percent. IV sedation charges also continued to rise.
What This Means for Patients
Should these charges and claims indicated by evidence all be corroborated, Lookhart’s patients could be entitled to restitution, with the total costs being estimated to be upwards of $2 million, plus additional fines. However, rushed and unnecessary procedures could also result in serious injuries should a patient have been hurt through carelessness or negligence.If you have been injured as a result of a mistake or poor standard of care in a doctor’s office, dentist’s chair, or any other medical facility, contact the Anchorage personal injury attorneys at Power and Brown, LLC today by dialing (800) 405-2092 and request a case evaluation to get started!