Meet the latest version of Rick Scott, wealthy hospital executive turned tea party candidate turned free-market governor. And now, it would seem, a socialist. The man who bought the Governor's Mansion with millions from building the nation's largest hospital chain wants Florida's hospitals to share their profits if they receive public money to treat the poor. That is quite a transformation, but this is a governor who will say anything to avoid acting responsibly and accepting federal Medicaid expansion money.
Scott has asked hospital executives and his kangaroo health care commission to create a plan for hospitals to share profits to cover the potential loss of the Low Income Pool, a $2 billion pot of public money that helps cover the cost of treating the uninsured. The Obama administration has warned for more than a year that the account will expire at the end of June and that the federal government's $1.3 billion contribution to it will disappear. Of course, this would not be an issue if Scott and House Republicans would accept billions in Medicaid expansion money to buy private coverage for 800,000 uninsured Floridians.
Instead, the Legislature faces a June 1 special session to agree on a state budget and resolve the health care stalemate between the House and Senate, which has crafted a reasonable bipartisan plan to accept the Medicaid expansion money and gradually phase out the Low Income Pool. Instead of negotiating with legislators, Scott has flip-flopped and dropped his support for Medicaid expansion, sued the Obama administration over the Low Income Pool and proposed hospitals share their profits.
As long as he is interested in redistributing wealth, here are some other suggestions for the governor:
• The state puts public money at risk to protect property insurance companies from insolvency after major hurricanes. Scott should demand insurers share their profits and lower homeowners' rates.
• The state's electric utilities are monopolies that enjoy a guaranteed rate of return. Scott should tell Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric to share their profits with ratepayers.
• Privately run charter schools get millions in public dollars for construction while needs go unmet for traditional public schools. Millions more that should go to public education are flowing to private schools as tuition vouchers. Scott should ask those private education operations to share their profits with taxpayers who are subsidizing them.
• Taxpayers send billions to contractors to build roads and private companies to run prisons. Scott should tell those companies to share their profits.
• Local governments routinely change land use plans and zoning for developers who get rich building housing developments and big box stores. Scott should demand they share the profits with local taxpayers.
Don't look for the governor to embrace these profit-sharing brainstorms, of course. But they are no different in principle than what Scott proposes for hospitals. And they are not as ridiculous as his Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding. Scott named just one doctor and not a single hospital executive to the nine-member board. The chair, Carlos Beruff of Parrish, is a home builder who contributed $121,000 to Scott and the state Republican Party. And on the same day Scott created the commission, the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America kindly contributed $100,000 to the governor's political committee. So the deck is stacked against nonprofit hospitals such as Tampa General, All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater.
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This is Scott's effort to blame someone else for this crisis — and it is a crisis for hospitals that could lose more than $1 billion in federal money and for nearly 1 million uninsured Floridians who are being denied health coverage because Republicans can't stand the Obama administration. This is about the governor's disdain for nonprofit hospitals that care for most of the Medicaid patients and uninsured in this state and receive most of the public money. And this is about seeking retribution against the safety net hospitals that have strongly supported accepting Medicaid expansion money.
To a governor without core values, that's worth pitching socialism.