Still no day at the beach
What Rick Scott brought to healthcare, he’d likely bring to the Sunshine State
Some things never change.
The cartoon below was published in Modern Healthcare in 1993. It captures the essence of Rick Scott’s take-no-prisoners business style as chief of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. Last week, Scott employed the same tactics in the political realm, securing the Republican nomination for governor of Florida. Scott waged a spending blitzkrieg, pumping some $50 million—most of it his own money—into advertising and other campaign activities. Local news accounts describe the expenditures as unprecedented. One story quotes a GOP official as worrying about a candidate with galaxy-size funds at his disposal and little need of party support.
Most of the media accounts from Florida also rely on first-reference descriptions of Scott as a healthcare executive or businessman. This is like calling the conquistadors explorers. The tepid terms leave out a whole dimension of distinguishing behavior.
During the Florida campaign, Scott repeatedly portrayed himself as a champion of free markets. The truth, like the shorthand descriptions, is more complex. Scott loved unrestricted economic freedom but was not so fond of competition. The company he helped found gobbled up hospitals (often not-for-profits) in targeted markets and sought to dominate those areas. Scott believed in shutting down hospitals and facilities that drew business away from Columbia properties.
He led his bonus-driven company into an ethical and legal morass. (See related Commentary, Dec. 7, 2009, p. 24.) The wreckage of his tenure included a then-record $1.7 billion settlement with the federal government over a variety of different forms of fraud. Scott was never charged individually, but here is what he says on his own campaign website:
“I’ve made mistakes in my life. And mistakes were certainly made at Columbia/HCA. I was the CEO of the company, and as CEO I accept responsibility for what happened on my watch. I learned very hard lessons from what happened, and those lessons have helped me become a better businessman and leader.”
That last assertion is questionable. Scott, who departed Columbia with more than $300 million, moved on to other enterprises, including Solantic, a chain of urgentcare clinics he co-founded. Not surprisingly, it has been hit by a series of lawsuits, alleging employment discrimination, wrongful death and a fraudulent misuse of a medical license. Settlements were reached in at least some of those cases. Just before the election, according to local reports, a fired physician lodged an unproven allegation of Medicare fraud against Solantic, which the company denies.
Throughout his career, Scott has demonstrated contempt for any force, public or private, that opposes his vision of the way things should be and his profits. His multimilliondollar, airwave-saturating campaign against healthcare reform (Scott spent about $15 million of his own money on the effort) under the banner of Conservatives for Patient Rights is a good example.
During the gubernatorial campaign, Scott repeatedly told voters that, if elected, he would run state government like a business. Given Scott’s history, that is exactly what Floridians should fear.