"Other hospitals were intimidated," recalls John Schilling, who worked for Columbia/HCA in the 1990s. Scott was "like the bully that would come into town and if you didn't sell to him or partner with him, he would open up shop across the street from you and put you out of business."Now Scott is the guy running the health care industry's lobbying efforts, and his job is simple: kill any reform legislation, period. He's as dangerous as he comes, and if he gets his way, the health care industry in this company will continue to become a bloated, greedy wreck.
Not long after joining the company in 1993 as the supervisor of reimbursement for the Fort Myers, Florida, office, Schilling noticed things weren't quite kosher. "They were looking for ways to maximize reimbursement...which ultimately would improve the bottom line."
One way they did this was to fudge the costs on their Medicare expense reports. They were "basically keeping two sets of books," says Schilling. The company would maintain an internal expense report, what it called a "reserve" report, which accurately tallied its expenses. "And then they would have a second report, which...they would file with the government, which was more aggressive." That report would "include inflated costs and expenses they knew weren't allowable or reimbursable. The one they filed with government might claim $5 million and the reserve would claim $4.5." Columbia/HCA would pocket the difference.
It wasn't just happening in Florida, and it wasn't just fraudulent Medicare expense reports. Around the country, dozens of whistle-blowers like Schilling stepped forward to file lawsuits under the False Claims Act, charging the company with sundry forms of chicanery: kickbacks to doctors in exchange for referrals, illegal deals with homecare agencies and filing false data about the use of hospital space.
By 1997 the FBI was investigating Columbia/HCA. Days after agents raided company facilities armed with search warrants, Scott was forced to resign. In 2000 the company pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to pay the government $840 million. Other civil settlements would follow, ultimately totaling a staggering $1.7 billion, making it the largest fraud case in American history.
(Scott was never criminally charged and continues to deny wrongdoing. His spokesperson did not respond to repeated interview requests.)
But in Washington there's no such thing as permanent disgrace, and as the healthcare debate heats up, Scott has established himself as a go-to source for reporters looking to hear from the opposition. He's been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He's been on Fox, of course, railing against President Obama's efforts to control healthcare costs. He appeared on CNN, where (as Media Matters noted) host Jessica Yellin never saw fit to notify viewers that the man she introduced as running "a media campaign to limit government's role in the healthcare system" once ran a company that profited mightily from ripping off that government.
There are far more dangerous people than El Rushbo out there, and Rick Scott is one of them.