What did Rick Scott know and what did he do about it?
As he meets Republicans around Florida, Rick Scott, the new front-runner in the Florida governor's race, has been greeted with applause — and with blunt questions about his past. At a recent GOP breakfast in Tampa, Scott was confronted — not for the first time — about his role in the scandals at Columbia/HCA, the huge health care company that Scott ran for 10 years. Scott resigned in 1997 amid an FBI inquiry that ultimately led to the company paying a record $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines for Medicare fraud. It's the paradox of Scott's upstart campaign: The novice candidate has touted his stature and experience as the get-things-done CEO of what was once the nation's largest for-profit health care company, while also trying to distance himself from Columbia/HCA's notorious legacy of fraud.
The strategy has worked so far. Thanks largely to a $16 million advertising blitz he financed himself, Scott — who moved to Florida seven years ago — now leads in the polls over fellow Republican Bill McCollum, the state attorney general and former congressman.
"As I have said repeatedly, Columbia/HCA made mistakes, and I take responsibility for what happened on my watch as CEO," Scott said in a written statement Friday. He has denied knowing frauds were taking place while he was there, and he was never charged with any crimes.
However, federal investigators found that Scott took part in business practices at Columbia/HCA that were later found to be illegal — specifically, that Scott and other executives offered financial incentives to doctors in exchange for patient referrals, in violation of federal law, according to lawsuits the Justice Department filed against the company in 2001.