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Floridians, Meet Your New Governor...Rick Scott?

By Philip Betbeze  
   August 27, 2010

Don King is infamous for his catchphrase, "Only in America!" The much-derided boxing promoter usually delivers that line while grinning ear-to-ear and holding at least one tiny American flag. Many people of goodwill cringe when they see it, and roll their eyes. It's insincere, unctuous, tasteless, and it's probably true. Only in America can a small-time hood become a multimillionaire boxing promoter who's hated by many, if not most, of his former boxers, and who's accused of stealing his way to the top. Yet nothing sticks. He's the true Teflon Don. And he's a leader.

What do Don King and boxing have to do with healthcare? Well, while you were paying attention to more important things, the guy who led one of the largest hospital companies in America to the biggest Medicare fraud payment in history is on track to become Florida's next governor. In case you don't remember the particulars, Columbia/HCA, under Rick Scott's watch, pled guilty as a company to a variety of fraud charges in relation to a number of government programs, including Medicare. At the time, according to Forbes magazine, it was the biggest fraud settlement in U.S. history. Yes, Rick Scott, the former Columbia/HCA head, will be the Republican nominee for the governor's race in that state this November, after beating career politician and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. Now, only Democrat Alex Sink and independent Lawton Chiles stand in his way.

Though Scott was never personally charged or convicted with a crime in relation HCA's admission of fraud, he was forced out by the board shortly after the company's plea, as co-founder Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., took over to right the ship. Scott, wealthy from his HCA stint and his successive business ventures, campaigned on an anti-incumbent, anti-illegal immigrant platform. He cast himself as an outsider. He's clearly that. The Republican party—and lobbyists—overwhelmingly supported McCollum and ran negative attack ads in the last weeks running up to the primary. Voters bought Scott's side of the story—by a 3% margin. Scott paid handsomely to be the eventual Republican nominee; he spent $50 million of his own cash on his primary campaign. It apparently was money well spent. In a climate where voters seem to want anybody but the incumbent, often for good reason, they got "anybody."


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Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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