Today, Rick Scott, the front man and funder of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), talked up his agenda with Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review. After being asked about his view of health care reform, Scott touted his experience as a hospital executive as a model:
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why are you stepping up to the health-care plate now?
Richard L. Scott: America is ready to improve health care. I believe there needs to be a strong advocate for patients’ rights, someone who has worked in the health-care industry. I hope my experiences focusing on reducing costs and improving outcomes can help ensure that any health-care proposals that are implemented focus on choice, competition, accountability, and personal responsibility.
In 1987, Scott didn’t start his hospital business for the sake of improving the quality of care, but rather wanted to “do for hospitals … what McDonald’s has done in the food business.” Indeed, through an aggressive strategy of rapid acquisitions and consolidation, Scott made his Hospital Corporation of America/Columbia Hospital Corporation into one of the largest health care companies in the world. Forbes magazine noted Scott ruthlessly bought “hospitals by the bucketful and promised to squeeze blood from each one.”
Carefully omitted from his official profile is the fact that under Scott’s leadership, Columbia/HCA plead guilty to a massive array of fraud charges – which resulted in a fraud settlement of $1.7 billion dollars, the largest in U.S history. Columbia/HCA systematically defrauded taxpayers, charging Medicare $15,000 for Tiffany pitchers and other luxury goods, “exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating,” and engineering a program where doctors were granted partnerships in hospitals as a kickback for referring patients. In 1997, Scott resigned in disgrace.
Though Scott is quick to raise the debunked myth of public health care options as “rationed care,” his own business model amounted to the rationing of services in order to boost profits. During Scott’s tenure at Columbia/HCA, his cost cutting methods threatened patient care and safety:
Susan Marks, a technician at one of Scott’s hospitals, was forced to monitor 72 heart monitors by herself. Marks explained, “I have to. I’ve been told you either do it, or there’s the door.” [ABC News, 9/26/97] Scott downsized nursing staffs, created conditions where “babies were attended as infrequently as every three hours. Once, the only nurse caring for seven ill infants was so busy she failed to hear an alarm when a baby stopped breathing. A parent dashed to the baby and stimulated breathing, the state report said.” [New York Times, 5/11/97] Hospital workers in Florida complained, “gloves come in only one size, and rip easily.” In addition, California employees protested “filthy conditions,” and being “stretched to the limit” as Scott’s company slashed “the ratio of nurses to patients.” [Money Driven Medicine, pg. 119]
As other health care policy blogs have pointed out, conservatives couldn’t have picked a worse spokesman to advance their vision for health care reform. While Scott postures as simply an advocate for patients’ rights, he was far more candid back in 1993 when he played a similar role as he is doing today. In an article published in USA Today in October of 1993, Scott said he vowed to do “everything I can” to block Clinton’s health care proposals. Scott provided more of his true goal for reforming the health care system after Republicans seized Congress in 1994, telling the American Health Line: “We think this election is very positive for Columbia. I expect to see malpractice reform (including caps on punitive damages and a requirement that losers pay litigation costs).”
As the President warned today at his Health Care Summit, “Our inability to reform health care in the past is just one example of how special interests have had their way and the public interest has fallen by the wayside.” While Rick Scott and other corporate interest lobbies prevailed during the last health care reform battle, the American people should merely look at his record to see why our system needs a major overhaul.