State Senator John Ford flip-flops on TennCare's dental program, committee tapes reveal

State Senator John Ford is against changing TennCare's dental program. Months later he's all for it. Why the dramatic turnabout? There's a request for a Federal Grand Jury investigation into Senator John Ford. The request comes after audio tapes from senate committee meetings show a very sharp flip-flop by Senator Ford. Why did Senator Ford have such a sudden change of heart on TennCare's dental program?

Barry Schmittou arrived at the U.S. Attorneys office in Nashville Monday, delivering an urgent request to create a federal grand jury to look into John Ford's consulting with TennCare linked companies. Schmittou's opinion is that legislators like Ford are getting money they shouldn't. Schmittou said, "To the point that their vote is being greatly influenced, and I think companies that do biz with the state of Tennessee understand if they do not spend money on the legislators, they're not gonna get the contract." In fact, Schmittou points to a May of 2001 committee meeting in Nashville. John Ford stood firmly against separating dental services from the rest of TennCare. A so-called "carve-out" of the dental program.

Ford said, "To carve out the dental programs for the MCOs. What sense does that make? And you set up a separate thing for it. It's not gonna decrease the cost of the dental services. Why would we recommend something like that.?" Ford clearly states that overhauling the dental program won't save money. Ford was so adamant against change or the carve-out he seemed to get flustered at one point. "I'm gonna tell you I'm at a loss to ask a question on this because I don't want to sound funny. This is very serious business to me." But seven months later a consulting firm that has since paid Ford at least $237,000 began representing Doral Dental. Four months after that, in April of 2002, Ford completely changed his tone, and was then fighting for carving out the dental program. "And I'm trying to point out to you the reason why TennCare should carve out the dental program because it can be done for about a dollar per head."

Remember, Ford said the carve-out would not save TennCare money. 11 months later he said, "The carve-out will save the program millions of dollars. I certainly hope so. I know it will. I know it will. It's just that my vision on this might be a little keener than most folks, but it will." Doral Dental won that $18-million carve-out contract to manage TennCare's dental program. After they got the contract, they began making payments to Managed Care Services Group Inc. That company has paid Senator Ford $237,000. Action News 5 called Senator Ford's office in Nashville, but have not hear back from him.