Rick Scott Is Making a Killing off the Uninsured
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Editor's note: Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
For months now multimillionaire healthcare entrepreneur Rick Scott has been at the center of the aggressive campaign to derail healthcare reform in Washington, D.C. Reprising the role he played nearly 20 years ago, when as the head of a national hospital chain he helped kill Clintoncare, the former hospital-chain executive founded the group Conservatives for Patients' Rights, raising $20 million to fight Obamacare, including $5 million of his own money. The tall, lean Scott, whose shiny bald head swivels in exasperation at the idea of government involvement in healthcare, even stars in its nationwide ad campaign comparing Democratic proposals to socialized medicine. Through this group, he has fomented the conservative strategy to disrupt town hall-style healthcare meetings around the country by shouting down elected officials. (CPR sent schedules of the meetings to so-called Tea Party activists.) He can justifiably claim some of the credit for the Senate Finance Committee's two votes Tuesday against a public option. But in Rick Scott the right has found a frontman whose baggage threatens to overwhelm his message.
A linchpin of Scott's 2009 campaign has been the use of anecdotes from abroad -- horror stories from Britain and Canada meant to illustrate how government-controlled healthcare systems "clearly kill people" by controlling their access to care, as he told Fox's Sean Hannity in June. He even funded a documentary titled "Faces of Government Healthcare" cataloging the horror stories of British and Canadian patients who were purportedly denied medical attention for life-threatening illnesses until it was too late.
Yet even as Scott makes the rounds of Congress and talk-show green rooms, a wrongful death lawsuit has been working its way through the Florida courts against a doctor employed by the chain of walk-in clinics Scott founded. Scott has repeatedly bragged that the 27-clinic, Florida-based company, Solantic, is an example of the free-market ingenuity needed to fix our ailing medical infrastructure. The lawsuit, however, alleges a Solantic doctor misdiagnosed a patient's deep-vein thrombosis as a sprained ankle, leading to a pulmonary embolism and death. That same doctor was reprimanded by the state for misdiagnosing deep-vein thrombosis in a patient who died two years earlier. It's the kind of anecdote you'd expect to hear in Scott's documentary -- except that it condemns a free-market system where profit and patient volume may take precedence over care.
And this isn't the first time that Scott's warnings about the ills of socialist medicine have found an ironic echo in his own healthcare business. Scott argues that socialized medicine rations care and strangles competition, yet just after his first stint as anti-reform spokesman in the 1990s, while he was running the world's largest healthcare company, he was accused of monopolizing markets and choking out the competition while slashing the chain's costs to the point that it affected patient care. And while he asserts that two of the core principles of healthcare reform are "accountability" and "personal responsibility," Scott ran a company that ultimately pleaded guilty to defrauding the government in one of the nation's largest Medicare frauds ever. Two executives went to prison, the company paid almost $2 billion in fines, and Scott was pushed out of the company. Before he could retake the political stage, he had to build his healthcare business all over again.
In the end, Scott's virulent opposition to Democratic healthcare proposals may simply be a business decision. The post-millennial incarnation of Rick Scott has plunged into several new healthcare businesses that could be adversely affected by reform. Among other healthcare businesses, Richard L. Scott Investments has invested in a pharmacy company, Pharmaca, where one of his employees sits on the board of directors. Drug manufacturers are opposed to a Medicare-type entity that could negotiate bulk purchases of drugs and drive down the cost of their products. More important, Scott's Solantic bills itself as a low-cost alternative to people who would otherwise go to emergency rooms for their immediate care needs -- i.e., the uninsured and people paying out-of-pocket expenses as a result of diminished insurance plans -- the very people reforms are intended to cover.