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Naples businessman Rick Scott joins GOP field for governor

TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott, a South Florida hospital entrepreneur and ardent opponent of President Barack Obama's health care plan, has entered the Republican primary for governor.

The conservative Naples businessman said Tuesday he'll seek the party nomination in the August primary. He plans a $1.5 million statewide ad buy on television and radio this week, said campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe Baker.

"Florida's future is worth the fight," Scott said. "Our opportunities are too great, our future too bright for the old ways of government and the failed policies of the past."

The 57-year-old Illinois native has lived in Florida since 1997. He made national headlines recently by opposing Obama's health care plans through Conservatives for Patients Rights, a nonprofit group he founded.

Prior to that, he built the hospital corporation Columbia/HCA, leaving it just as the massive health-care chain became the focus of a investigation into its billing practices.

He faces competition for the GOP nomination from Attorney General Bill McCollum and state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland in the contest to replace Gov. Charlie Crist, who is leaving office after one term to run for the U.S. Senate.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is the leading Democratic candidate in the race.

Scott filed his official paperwork Friday with the secretary of state and has a skeleton campaign staff assembled.

During the long health care debate last year, Scott's organization aired television commercials blasting the prospect of a "massive government-run insurance plan" that "could crush all your other choices, driving them out of existence," and predicted that 119 million people would lose their current insurance coverage.

In 2000, Forbes magazine described him as a man who "bought hospitals by the bucketful and promised to squeeze blood from each one."

On the Conservatives for Patients Rights Web site, Scott has pointed out that he was never charged with wrongdoing related to his time at Columbia/HCA, which he left in 1997.

Charges were filed against his former company, however, in four states, including Florida. The firm eventually pleaded guilty to systematically overcharging the government and other fraudulent practices and paid a record $1.7 billion in fines.

He describes himself as the son of a truck driver and a JCPenney clerk, who worked his way through college and began a law practice specializing in health care mergers and acquisitions. This led him to begin building the Columbia hospital empire.

Scott now runs Florida's Solantic urgent care centers, and is a board member of the politically powerful business advocacy group Associated Industries of Florida.

Information from Associated Press was included in this report.

.Fast facts

Richard L. Scott

Age: 57.

Born: In 1952 in Bloomington, Ill., and raised in Kansas City, Mo.

Education: After the Navy, Scott earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at University of Missouri-Kansas City and a law degree from Southern Methodist University.

Career: After a private practice lawyer, Scott founded Columbia Hospital Corp. in 1987. In 1994, he bought Hospital Corporation of America but was forced out as chairman and CEO in 1997 after lawsuits over Columbia/HCA's Medicare billing practices. In 1997, he bought controlling interest in America's Health Network, which merged with Fox Entertainment to become the Health Network and later Discovery Health. In 2001, Scott co-founded Solantic Corp., which operates Florida urgent care clinics.

Personal: He lives in Naples with wife, Ann. Married 37 years, they have two grown daughters. He is a member of Naples Community Church.

Naples businessman Rick Scott joins GOP field for governor 04/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 12:07am]

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