1. Opinion

Nickens: Give Gov. Rick Scott credit; he has some nerve

Rick Scott, a former hospital executive, is a secretive, tone-deaf governor who still lacks a firm grasp of the tools of the office.
Rick Scott, a former hospital executive, is a secretive, tone-deaf governor who still lacks a firm grasp of the tools of the office.
Published May 1, 2015

Give Rick Scott credit.

The governor's audacity is impressive, his shamelessness is without limits and his disregard for public perception remains strong.

This is the guy who helped build the nation's largest hospital chain, Columbia/HCA. He was the CEO whose empire made $1.5 billion in profit in 1996, awarded big bonuses to top executives and ruthlessly pressured low-performing hospitals to generate more revenue.

And now in the midst of a political stalemate over health care for low-income Floridians, the governor wants to create a commission to investigate hospital profits and health care costs.

This is the former hospital executive who resigned as the Justice Department investigated his company. That company later pleaded guilty to felony charges and paid a record fine for Medicare fraud.

And now the governor says Medicaid is a flawed program and the federal government cannot be trusted.

This is the wealthy lawyer who moved to Florida just seven years before he ran for the state's highest office. He financed his hostile takeover of the state in 2010 with more than $70 million from his tainted health care fortune, and he threw in millions more at the last minute in 2014 when it appeared he might not win re-election.

And now the governor does not want to provide 800,000 low-income Floridians health coverage and is going after hospitals that support accepting federal Medicaid expansion dollars.

So give Scott credit.

As my mother used to say in a certain tone of voice, that takes some nerve.

The Legislature ended its regular session last week in a bitter mess over health care. House Republicans abruptly adjourned three days early rather than consider the Senate's bipartisan plan to accept the Medicaid expansion money and overhaul the Low Income Pool that helps cover hospital costs for the uninsured. Legislators will return for a special session at some point to resume the fight over health care and a state budget, which has to be approved by July 1.

Normally, the governor would be helpful in setting the direction and forging a compromise. Not Scott, who spent some of the legislative session's final days trying to poach jobs in California, visiting a giant Ferris wheel in Orlando and opening another Wawa in Fort Myers. He has few relationships with legislators, his top staff is ineffective and unqualified and his credibility in the capital is negligible.

Let's review.

Scott disdains the Affordable Care Act and took extraordinary steps to try to derail it. He opposed Medicaid expansion when he took office in 2011. Then he supported it after the Obama administration granted the state federal Medicaid waivers in 2013, saying he could not "in good conscience deny the uninsured access to care.'' Now he opposes it again.

This is a secretive, tone-deaf governor who still lacks a firm grasp of the tools of the office. He governs by written statements and lawsuits that are often poorly executed and without merit.

As the Legislature's divisions deepened, Scott threatened to call a special session. He demanded a continuation budget, a term that applies to Washington but not to Tallahassee. He threatened individual senators with vetoes of their priorities, which did not help. He filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the Low Income Pool, which should not succeed. He announced his commission to investigate health care costs, which is a stalling tactic. And he said the Legislature should pass a state budget that includes neither Medicaid expansion money nor $1.3 billion in federal money for the Low Income Pool.

Think about this. Scott would rather give up his proposed tax cuts than side with the Senate, accept the federal Medicaid money and subsidize private health insurance for low-income Floridians. He would rather use state tax money to make up for lost federal tax money to the Low Income Pool. And he would rather pay state tax revenue for uninsured Floridians to use expensive hospital emergency rooms than to use federal money to subsidize private health coverage that would pay for less expensive preventive care.

The self-proclaimed jobs governor preaches fiscal responsibility and government efficiency. Yet he will not back a Senate plan that would reduce health care costs, create jobs and save state taxpayers more than $1 billion over five years.

This is not about what is best for Floridians or this state. This is about the political future of the state's worst governor in modern times. This is about avoiding anything tied to the Obama administration, pleasing the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity and courting the tea party Republicans that got him elected in the first place.

This is about Rick Scott looking out for Rick Scott.

You have to admire his focus.