Friday, April 3, 2009

Don’t Google Rick Scott

Aw heck, go ahead and give it a try.

In the battle over healthcare, Rick Scott is doing the rounds in his position as chairman of Conservatives for Patients Rights. He’s spreading scary “Obama will socialize healthcare” lies, pushed by the same flacks who gave us the Swift Boat Veterans Against John Kerry.

This statement is especially ironic. I'll tell you why in a sec:
“After the embarrassment of the AIG bonus scandal, these same people are now talking about ramming a $634 billion health care plan through Congress, and we still don't have any details," Scott said in a statement.

I dunno, seems to me associating yourself with a firm tainted by the Swift Boat smearmongers is like showing up at a company picnic with a basketful of turd sandwiches. There’s that whiff of illegitimacy that attaches to your message, which I’d think conservatives would have figured out by now. Guess not.

Anyway, the PR firm Scott hired is the least of his worries. Scott himself comes with a strong stench of merde attached to his name, by virtue of his tenure at the tainted Columbia/HCA. And yes, the news media has noticed:

Once lauded for building Columbia/HCA into the largest health care company in the world, Mr. Scott was ousted by his own board of directors in 1997 amid the nation’s biggest health care fraud scandal. The company’s guilty plea and payment of $1.7 billion to settle charges including the overbilling of state and federal health programs was taken as a repudiation of Mr. Scott’s relentless bottom-line approach.
For those who don’t remember, Columbia/HCA defrauded Medicare and other government programs in a huge scandal that forced the hospital chain to rename itself TriStar, a la AIG and Enron. After an investigation that lasted over 7 years, Columbia/HCA entered a guilty plea and paid the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history:
The company admitted to systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about how hospital space was being used.

The company increased Medicare billings by exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating. It also granted doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. In addition, it gave doctors "loans" that were never expected to be paid back, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.

The investigation and the plea is an obvious blow to a company that became a Wall Street darling by promising to bring first-class business practices to the hospital sector, still dominated by not-for-profits. Under former Chief Executive Richard Scott, it bought hospitals by the bucketful and promised to squeeze blood from each one.

Healthcare for profit! Double-bill the government! Kickbacks! Excuse me, Mr. Scott, if your pearl-clutching over “the AIG bonus scandal” rings a little hollow. Especially when you left Columbia/HCA with your own golden parachute:

Scott received a lump sum payment of $5.1 million when he resigned July 25 under pressure from Columbia's board as a federal fraud investigation began engulfing the nation's largest hospital company, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Over the next five years he'll collect another $4.8 million through annual consulting fees of $950,000. Scott, who co-founded the $20 billion company a decade ago with two Texas hospitals, was making a base salary of $900,000 a year.

Oh, sweet!

You’ve really gotta wonder how strong the message is when Rick Scott is the best messenger the anti-healthcare overhaul folks could find. Indeed, corporate crooks like Scott notwithstanding, it appears other healthcare stakeholders are ready to back reform.

Looks like this is yet another issue in which conservatives are on the wrong side. And finding a corporate weasel like Rick Scott to be your messenger doesn't sound like a winning strategy.