Monday, September 20, 2010

Accountability-- In Ohio... And In Florida


A few small fry and lone wolf perps, like Duke Cunningham (R-CA), William Jefferson (D-LA) and Bob Ney (R-OH) allowed greed to run away with itself, cast caution and prudence to the winds, and wound up in prisons, but, generally speaking, our political elites are virtually never held accountable for even their worst and most societally-costly mistakes. There are few better examples than this year's political battle in Ohio. Three Ohio Republicans are looking for big promotions. John Kasich wants to be governor; Rob Portman wants to be senator, and John Boehner wants to be Speaker of the House. Yet it would be impossible to find three politicians more culpable for Ohio's economic decline than these three. Each was a mover and shaker in the battle to deregulate Wall Street and each was a powerful advocate for the disastrous trade policies than virtually shipped the state's entire manufacturing base to low wage countries, leaving Ohio with staggering unemployment rates. And yet all three are currently favored in their November election races. Are voters masochists? Ignorant? Or just sick of a Democratic Party that prides itself on being a little tiny bit less bad than the Republicans?

If there's one politician this cycle with a great sense of entitlement for himself and a greater dependence on voters' inability to hold anyone accountable for anything than the Ohio trio of corporate shills, it's got to be Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott, a multimillionaire pirate who managed to buy the GOP nomination by swamping a weak establishment candidate with a $50 million flood of self-funding. Yesterday's St Petersburg Times laid out the whole sordid case of how Scott systematically defrauded Medicare... as a business model! And now he expects to be elected governor!

Scott is fond of trying to blame his underlings and claim he didn't know nothin; about anything. Turns out this was clearly untrue. As journalists Marc Caputo and Scott Hiaasen pointed out in their article yesterday there exist:
• Securities and Exchange Commission filings signed by Rick Scott prove he knew about massive, systemic fraud he was overseeing at Columbia/HCA

• A note about those auditors Rick Scott likes to talk about

• How the FBI tried to question Rick Scott

• And "Federal investigators also said Scott knew about the doctor payments, court records show."

Scott always denies any culpability for he record $1.7 billion fine his company was forced to pay for fraud and he always points out that he was never arrested or indicted and still hasn't been sent to prison. Good point-- and one that should be answered.
Scott signed his last SEC report as a hospital executive on March 27, 1997-- eight days after the FBI raided two El Paso, Texas, hospitals in what became the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history, spanning six states during a seven-year criminal probe. Scott resigned from Columbia/HCA four months later and he was never charged with a crime.

In the end, Columbia/HCA paid a record $1.7 billion in fines and pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges for a variety of transgressions. About $30 million in fines stemmed from illegal payments to doctors, a practice federal investigators traced back to El Paso, where Scott and a partner began Columbia in 1987 with the purchase of two distressed hospitals.

The payments in question-- alleged sham loans and stock deals - are largely forbidden by federal antikickback laws, because the financial incentives can tempt doctors to refer Medicare patients to their own hospitals and labs. That can potentially stick taxpayers with bills for unnecessary treatment.

As part of its business strategy, Columbia offered ownership shares and other inducements to local doctors, hoping physicians would in turn send more patients to Columbia hospitals. This became one of Columbia's hallmarks, helping the company grow rapidly and ultimately take over the larger HCA in 1994.

In the last year of Columbia's stand-alone existence, its stockholder report gave no indication that the arrangements with physicians could run afoul of federal law. In fact, the report lauded the arrangement as a way to reduce costs, improve health outcomes and increase profitability.

...Hospital expert James Roberts, now general counsel with Gainesville-based Shands Healthcare, said Columbia/HCA was playing a "roulette wheel," betting that the risk of fines was lower than the profitability of the physician arrangements.

Roberts agreed that the language about physician payments was "boilerplate" but said Scott - a lawyer as well as a hospital chief executive - should have known better.

He said the law is tough to comply with but pretty clear: Anything beyond giving "mugs and pencils" to doctors risks trouble. He said hospitals now spend a considerable amount of time and money on compliance.

"What the company didn't have an appreciation for was all the restrictions and the compliance issues," Roberts said. "They established a draconian set of rules designed to maximize profit and that inevitably led to a culture where rules were bent for the almighty dollar."

Last week, in a post titled The Hubris of Rick Scott Blogcritics highlighted the hypocrisy at the core of Scott's campaign and tied together the loose strings of the case against a charlatan who belongs in Bradford County's state prison, not in the governor's mansion in Tallahassee. And Saturday's Palm Beach Post posed the simple question, Will Rick Scott's business background help or hurt him in governor's race?
"He built a company that was based on, as I understand it, maybe providing doctors with kickbacks for referrals. Things that are not permitted in the Medicare system," said Sink, the state's chief financial officer.

So far, his wealth has been more of an asset than a liability. Scott overwhelmed his primary opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, by spending a record-breaking $50 million, nearly three times as much as McCollum and his allies.

But a steady drumbeat of questions about Scott's past kept the victory margin to less than 3 percentage points.

Sink and her allies have picked up where McCollum left off, badgering Scott to release his tax returns and unseal a deposition included as part of a lawsuit against a newer venture of Scott's, a chain of health care clinics.

The Post goes on with an extensive look into Scott's shady business career and his disdain for ethics and legal parameters that are meant to protect the public from predators-- predators like Rick Scott. Ironically, the article ends with a vulture capitalist purchase by Scott of Continental Structural Plastics, a move that caused Cary Ohio to lose two-thirds of its workforce in the CSP plant there (230 jobs) in 2006-- a GOP stronghold represented by violently anti-union, anti-family fanatic Jim Jordan, who is loudly and proudly trumpeting the whole disastrous economic agenda being espoused by Boehner, Kasich, Portman... and Rick Scott. (The Democratic Party has chosen to not contest the district with a serious opponent.)

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home