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Kentucky dentist who pulled teeth that weren’t bad sentenced to prison

Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

An Eastern Kentucky dentist who admitted getting higher payments from Medicaid through inflated bills has been sentenced to four months in prison.

Denver “Dickie” Tackett also must serve six months of home detention after his prison sentence, repay $70,012 to Medicaid and pay the government $20,000.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sentenced Tackett on Tuesday.

A dentist in Kentucky has been sentenced to four months in prison after pleading guilty to health care fraud.

Tackett, who practiced for more than 30 years at McDowell, in Floyd County, pleaded guilty in August to a charge of health care fraud.

Tackett acknowledged that he submitted claims for treating patients that were not reasonable and necessary between 2003 and 2018.

One example was that he filed claims to be paid for performing more complex surgical tooth extractions when he had only done simple extractions, which were reimbursed at a lower rate, according to the plea agreement.

Tackett billed Medicaid for some medically unnecessary procedures; submitted claims for providing emergency care without sufficient justification; and filed claims to get paid for procedures related to an earlier unnecessary extraction, the plea agreement said.

Tackett acknowledged pulling people’s teeth when it wasn’t necessary, but his attorney, Andrew L. Sparks, said patients asked Tackett to do that.

It was not uncommon for people to ask to have their teeth pulled while the service was covered by Medicaid out of concern that they would lose coverage later, Sparks said in a sentencing memorandum.

The indictment in the case also charged Tackett with 15 counts of improperly distributing opioid pain pills, but those charges were dropped as part of the plea.

Sparks sought probation for Tackett, noting letters of support that described Tackett as a caring, dedicated dentist who worked long hours to help people, treated patients even if they couldn’t pay and sometimes paid for a patient’s prescription.

One woman described how her son damaged a front tooth playing basketball and Tackett opened his office at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve to treat him, saving the tooth.

Tackett, who is an ordained minister through the United Methodist Church and the Assembly of God Pentecostal Church, was not motivated by a desire for wealth, according to the sentencing memo.

“Dr. Tackett’s history and characteristics show a man dedicated to his faith, his family and his patients,” the memo said. “These letters make clear that Denver Tackett is a good and decent man.”

Sparks argued Tackett had been punished enough by losing his practice.

Prosecutors argued for a sentence of 18 to 24 months, saying the health care system depends on providers being trustworthy and assumes that they will only bill for necessary services they actually perform.

A review by a consultant at the University of Kentucky showed a pattern by Tackett of prolonging treatment and performing procedures patients didn’t need, resulting in payments to him, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also argued that prescriptions Tackett wrote for opioid painkillers played a role in the drug problem.

“Several of these patients told investigators that they became addicts as a result of Dr. Tackett’s prescriptions or that Dr. Tackett contributed to their addictions by continuing to prescribe controlled substances to them,” prosecutors wrote.

Tackett was among 60 health providers in seven states charged in April 2019 as part of an investigation of alleged improper prescribing.

Some other providers charged in Kentucky in the roundup have also been convicted.