House Limits Profits Of Doctor-Congressmen
By Gene Randall/CNN
WASHINGTON (Feb. 25) -- The House Ethics Committee says congressmen who are doctors are bound by a strict set of conditions, including a ban on making a profit from their practices. For an Oklahoma congressman the issue has become a battleground.
Republican Rep. Tom Coburn is in his second House term and, electoral challenges aside, it may be his last. Coburn says he is being forced to make a choice.
"If I can only practice medicine or only be in Congress, I'll practice medicine," Coburn told CNN.
Splitting his time between Washington and Oklahoma since 1995, Coburn has delivered about 200 babies at his clinic in Muskogee.
The Ethics Committee says it's OK for Coburn and more than a half dozen other doctors in the House to practice but not for profit. Income can only cover expenses such as malpractice insurance.
But Coburn says he is bothered most by a rule he will not be allowed to keep his name as part of the clinic he runs with three partners. The argument is that, too, would be trading on his name.
Coburn said, "It's going to be very difficult for me to continue to practice medicine, regardless of what the costs are, or regardless of whether I get remunerated. I won't have many patients."
At the root of all of this is the fear that lawmakers with outside professions will attract people trying to influence their House votes. Coburn says that's ludicrous.
"People don't choose me to be their obstetrician so that I'll vote a certain way," Coburn said. "It never enters their mind."
A committee memorandum released Wednesday brushed Coburn's objections aside.
If that means Coburn trades in his House seat for a sign that reads "The Doctor Is In," it could be a real opening for Democrats in Oklahoma's 2nd district, long a party stronghold until Coburn's win in 1994.