Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ruth: Instead of outrage, a chorus of crickets

In almost any other environment — with the exception of Tallahassee's dense, impenetrable black hole of irrationality — this would have been an election-year political gift presented on a gilded platter:

Thousands of unwitting patients are finding themselves consigned to a greedy hospital chain's trauma centers, where they are being mugged with unreasonable, inexplicable and indefensible "trauma center response fees" totaling as much as $33,000 the moment they cross the ER's threshold.

The dubious cover charges imposed by the very, very for-profit Hospital Corporation of America are little more than medical usury. They have threatened some Floridians — at the moment where they were most vulnerable — with financial ruin, as the Tampa Bay Times' Letitia Stein and Alexandra Zayas have uncovered.

This would have appeared to be a golden opportunity for our august elected officials, who love to claim they are champions of the public interest, to proclaim the obscene trauma fee vigorish will not stand. For Gov. Rick Scott, burdened with an image as a high-hat pol with little more than gold doubloons flowing through his veins, it was a moment to demonstrate that he shares some genuine empathy for the constituents he serves who are being treated horrifically by HCA, a company he formerly worked for as chief executive officer.

But when Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz were asked what they intended to do about correcting the onerous HCA "trauma center response fees," they devolved into an Axis of Weasels.

Scott ignored the question and bizarrely blamed Obamacare for HCA's intravenous avarice, which only goes to show what the governor lacks in imagination, he more than makes up for in repetitive gibberish. Do you get the feeling if Florida was hit by a Category 5 hurricane, another BP oil spill and/or a disastrous drought, the Gov. Le Petomane of the Apalachee Parkway would simply persist in being a one-trick phony and lay it all off on Obamacare?

For his part, Weatherford, doing his best Eddie Haskell impersonation, feigned deep, abiding concern over the HCA's stethoscope knee-capping of its patients. The speaker promised to leap into the fray by suggesting the issue of the HCA trauma response fee filching needs "to be answered and addressed in a committee format."

Weatherford's disingenuousness was merely Tallahassee-speak for "We're going to bury the flap over the HCA fees deeper than Jimmy Hoffa."

Nothing ensures an issue will disappear, never to be seen or heard from again in Tallahassee, like assigning it to a committee for further review. About the only avenue that would guarantee the HCA trauma center fee imbroglio would fade faster from view would be assigning Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who has been seen less often in public than Thomas Pynchon since assuming office, to study it.

Even the usually loquacious Gaetz opted to go into seclusion rather than bother to cook up some piffle over HCA's pirates of the emergency room scam. This from a powerful Tallahassee political figure who has scads of public relations minions at his disposal to put silly words into his mouth.

Perhaps Gaetz figured there was no way he could top Scott and Weatherford's unctuous rhetorical blather.

There's a very simple reason that these Profiles in Porridge would throw their constituents under HCA's trauma center response fee shakedown bus.

Since November 2012, HCA has made $1.3 million in campaign contributions, including $100,000 to help Scott's re-election.

How much have you ponied up to protect the political keisters of the Axis of Beagles? And you actually naively expect these Profiles in Shills to care about you? Compromised government doesn't come on the cheap, you know.

One gets the feeling Zayas and Stein could have discovered that HCA was practicing voodoo medicine in its emergency rooms and Scott would have still complained about Obamacare; Weatherford would have still referred the matter to the Legislature's Skull and Bones Society; and Gaetz would have still taken his Marcel Marceau vow of omerta.

But not to worry. There's an HCA trauma center somewhere near you eagerly waiting your arrival to provide the unique care endorsed by Tallahassee's quacks of political poltroons.

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