WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS: Meet Dick Scott, Health Care Reform’s Public Enemy Number One


meAVATAR2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA While recent polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans favor health care reform that included a so-called public option that would provide coverage for the estimated 45 millions Americans with no health insurance, one man is doing everything in his power to make sure this does not happen, going so far as to spend $5 million of his own money to bankroll TV ads designed to scare American public off the path of health care reform with visions of a socialized medicine hell where the right to choose is forcibly surrendered to Big Brother, government bureaucrats dictate diagnosis and treatment to doctors, and pain-riddled patients wait months or years for critical care.

(Actually, if you replace ‘Big Brother’ with ‘HMO’ and ‘government bureaucrats’ with ‘corporate bean counters’ you have our current system.)

This man is Richard Scott, a disgraced former hospital chain executive, longtime Republican donor and one of the many crony capitalist predators that call George W. Bush ‘friend.’ Back in March, Scott founded misleadingly named Conservatives For Patients Rights, which is really little more than an heavily-capitalized astro-turf web site, masquerading as a power-to-the-people grassroots movement, that crusades against the evils of government-run health care. According to Politco, he has raised some $20 million for an ad campaign which is being coordinated by CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.

A more accurate name for Scott’s organization would be Conservatives for Capitalist Fat Cats Right To Exploit The Sick And Infirm For Fun and For Profit. You see, Scott is the founder of Solantic, a Florida-based chain of so-called ‘urgent care’ clinics whose target market is the 45 million uninsured Americans with no access to health care. That target market would dry up if health care reform goes through with a public option that would provide health insurance coverage for those 45 million Americans that currently go without. That’s 45 million potential customers that would disappear over night with the stroke of President Obama’s pen. None of this is mentioned on the Conservatives for Patient’s Rights web site.

It is indicative of just how unpopular opposition to health care reform is that Scott would emerge as the dickscott_fraud.jpgobstructionist’s spokesman, because he is a very damaged messenger. Previously, Scott was the President of health care giant Columbia/HCA which at the time was the world’s largest health care provider with more than 340 hospitals, 130 surgery centers, and 550 home health locations in 38 states and two foreign countries, with annual revenues in excess of $23 billion. One of Columbia/HCA’s favorite techniques for gaming the health care market was buying up competing hospitals and closing them. In 1997, Scott was forced out by the board of directors in the wake of a seven-year Federal fraud investigation that concluded with the company pleading guilty to 14 felony counts of criminal misconduct — including defrauding Medicare and Medicaid with millions of dollars worth of false claims and paying kickbacks to physicians that guided patients to its hospitals. All told, Columbia/HCA paid out $1.7 billion in fines and civil settlements. Although he was President, Scott claimed he had no knowledge of his companies fraudulent practices and was awarded a $10 million golden parachute and $300 million worth of stock options. Once again, none of this is mentioned on the Conservatives for Patient’s Rights web site.

People like Scott — and the lobbyists of K Street who are paid seven figure salaries to pull the puppet strings of congress and protect the massive profit margins of ginormous health care conglomerates  — are essentially advocating for the status quo because there is money to be made. A lot of money. This year Americans will spend nearly 3 trillion dollars on health care. Three trillion. That’s four times the amount we spend on national defense. According to a 2008 report by Health Matrix, 1.5 million Americans lose their homes every year to foreclosure because of medical debts. A recent survey conducted in Iowa revealed that 44% of respondents have to cut back on food and heating expenses to cope with rising health insurance costs. A recent report indicates that a married couple entering retirement will require a quarter of a million dollars to cover their health care costs.

And what do we get for that three trillion dollars we spend every year? In the year 2000 the World Health Organization ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in overall performance and 72nd by overall level of health among 191 member nations included in the study. The CIA World Factbook ranked the United States 41st in the world for lowest infant mortality rate and 46th for highest total life expectancy. According  to the Institute of Medicine, 100,000 Americans die annually from medical errors — more than double the number of Americans who die annually in car crashes. People like Richard Scott say that we should stay the course, that America can’t afford to have government run health care, but it seems to me that Americans can no longer afford NOT to have government run health care.

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