From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Richard L. Scott is unusual in these tough economic times: a rich, conservative investor willing to spend freely on a political cause.
Mr. Scott is starring in his own rotation of advertisements against the broad outlines of President Obama’s health care plans. (“Imagine waking up one day and all your medical decisions are made by a central, national board,” he warns in a radio spot.) He has dispatched camera crews to other countries to document the perils of socialized medicine.
He visited with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, and his new group, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights [CPR], has hired a leading conservative public relations firm, CRC, well known for its work with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that attacked Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, during his presidential campaign.
Mr. Scott’s emergence this spring as the most visible conservative opponent to Mr. Obama’s not-fully-defined health care effort has former friends and foes alike doing double takes, given Mr. Scott’s history.
(More on Scott’s history below)
Conservative health care activists, while glad to have a potential ally willing to spend $5 million out of his own pocket, are not fully embracing Mr. Scott, noting that he is entering a changed landscape in which some Republicans and industry groups that opposed President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals now view some form of change as necessary and inevitable.
Some former allies are more hostile toward Mr. Scott, painting him as counterproductive to their efforts for compromise.
Mr. Scott is showing more support from some Republicans in Congress, though. Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas and a member of the House health subcommittee, said in an interview that he had invited Mr. Scott to meet with him on Tuesday because he liked what Mr. Scott had been saying.
From Christopher Hayes at The Nation (March 11, 2009):
Rush Limbaugh offers Democrats an irresistible target as the de facto leader of the Republican Party, but for my money, Rick Scott is the man who best embodies the spirit of the current conservative opposition. The name may not exactly be a household word, or it may ring a faint bell, but Politico recently reported that the millionaire Republican would be heading up Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), a new group that plans to spend around $20 million to kill President Obama’s efforts at healthcare reform.
Having Scott lead the charge against healthcare reform is like tapping Bernie Madoff to campaign against tighter securities regulation. You see, the for-profit hospital chain Scott helped found–the one he ran and built his entire reputation on–was discovered to be in the habit of defrauding the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is the man who will be delivering what Politico called the “pro-free-market message.”
A Texas lawyer who shared a business partner with George W. Bush, Scott started his health company, Columbia Hospital Corporation, in 1987. Its growth was meteoric, expanding from just a few hospitals to more than 1,000 facilities in thirty-eight states and three other countries in 1997. As his firm gobbled up chains, like the Frist family’s Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), it became the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country. By 1994, Columbia/HCA was one of the forty largest corporations in America, and Scott had acquired a reputation as the Gordon Gecko of the healthcare world. “Whose patients are you stealing?” he would ask employees at his newly acquired hospitals.
He promised to put nonprofit hospitals–which he insisted on referring to as “nontaxpaying” hospitals–out of business and touted his company’s single-minded pursuit of profit as a model for the nation’s entire healthcare system.
The press portrayed Scott as a guru to be admired and feared, “a private capitalist dictator,” in the words of one Princeton health economist.
Not long after joining the company in 1993 as the supervisor of reimbursement for the Fort Myers, Florida, office, [John] Schilling noticed things weren’t quite kosher. “They were looking for ways to maximize reimbursement…which ultimately would improve the bottom line.”
One way they did this was to fudge the costs on their Medicare expense reports. They were “basically keeping two sets of books,” says Schilling. The company would maintain an internal expense report, what it called a “reserve” report, which accurately tallied its expenses. “And then they would have a second report, which…they would file with the government, which was more aggressive.” That report would “include inflated costs and expenses they knew weren’t allowable or reimbursable. The one they filed with government might claim $5 million and the reserve would claim $4.5.” Columbia/HCA would pocket the difference.
But in Washington there’s no such thing as permanent disgrace, and as the healthcare debate heats up, Scott has established himself as a go-to source for reporters looking to hear from the opposition. He’s been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He’s been on Fox, of course, railing against President Obama’s efforts to control healthcare costs. He appeared on CNN, where (as Media Matters noted) host Jessica Yellin never saw fit to notify viewers that the man she introduced as running “a media campaign to limit government’s role in the healthcare system” once ran a company that profited mightily from ripping off that government.
Indeed, if there’s one thing that’s most galling about Scott’s antigovernment jihad–and most emblematic–it’s that for all his John Galt bluster, he made his fortune (which, yes, he still has) in no small part thanks to steady contract fees from the Great Society’s entitlement programs.
From Trail Blazers Blog at The Dallas Morning News:
Rick Scott started with two small hospitals in El Paso. With Fort Worth billionaire Richard Rainwater’s help, he built the world’s largest health care company, Columbia/HCA. Then Scott was fired by his board 12 years ago, amid the nation’s biggest health care fraud scandal.
The company was charged with a host of ripoffs of taxpayers: “Upcoding,” or inflating the seriousness of illnesses treated on billings to Medicare; unneeded blood tests; padding of home health care bills; inflated Medicare cost reports; wound-care centers that tried to foist marketing costs onto taxpayers; and kickbacks to doctors to induce them to refer patients to Columbia/HCA hospitals, which is illegal.
Eventually, the company pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and paid $1.7 billion to settle the criminal and civil cases.
And, kids, remember Texas Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX) from the NYT article above? Here’s a bit more info from Trail Blazers:
So is Burgess worried the messenger for conservative principles on health care has too much baggage?
Burgess, a doctor, once worked at a Lewisville hospital run by HCA/Columbia or its predecessor, said Burgess spokeswoman Lauren Bean.
“He only has good memories of Mr. Scott,” Bean said. “He remembers him as being someone who was just trying to make the hospital better. He had fresh ideas. He brought electronic medical records to the hospital. … Congressman Burgess applauds him for his novel approach to health care.”
Bean said Burgess is playing the role of reporter in a series of videotaped interviews with health care industry gurus and executives.
(Trail Blazers has one of CPR’s videos at the link above.)
In 1997, Scott purchased America’s Health Network, the first 24-hour health care cable channel. America’s Health Network was merged into a subsidiary of Fox Networks. After the merger, the channel was renamed The Health Network.
Scott was a partner of George W. Bush in ownership of the Texas Rangers.
And his middle name is Lynn. Sissy!
Here’s more from Wiki about Scott’s corporation, Solantic. It might explain why he’s willing to spend $5 million of his own money to fight health care reform:
Solantic provides urgent care services, immunizations, physicals, drug screening, and care for injured workers. It was founded by Richard Scott and Karen Bowling in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2001, and opened its first urgent care center in 2002. The corporation attracts patients who do not have insurance, cannot get appointments with their primary care physicians, or do not have primary care physicians. Solantic is intended to be an alternative to the emergency room care that these types of patients often seek, or for not seeing a doctor at all.
Solantic had revenues of $100 million in 2007. At the end of 2008, Solantic had 23 centers, all located in Florida. Three of the centers are located in Wal-Mart Supercenters.