Meet Rick Scott

MEET RICK SCOTT…. The leading opponent of health care reform has quite an interesting background. Say hello to Rick Scott.

Richard L. Scott is unusual in these tough economic times: a rich, conservative investor willing to spend freely on a political cause.

Mr. Scott is starring in his own rotation of advertisements against the broad outlines of President Obama’s health care plans. (“Imagine waking up one day and all your medical decisions are made by a central, national board,” he warns in a radio spot.) He has dispatched camera crews to other countries to document the perils of socialized medicine.

He visited with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, and his new group, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, has hired a leading conservative public relations firm, CRC, well known for its work with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that attacked Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, during his presidential campaign.

At first blush, Scott sounds like a fairly commonplace far-right hack, repeating bogus talking points, and hoping to scare Americans who don’t recognize his snake oil. That he’s hired the Swiftboat Liars’ p.r. firm only helps make the picture complete.

But there’s more to this story than that. Richard Scott isn’t just taking the lead in opposition to a better health care system, and he isn’t just spending $5 million of his own money to prevent more Americans from having better care, he was also implicated in undermining the system itself.

Once lauded for building Columbia/HCA into the largest health care company in the world, Mr. Scott was ousted by his own board of directors in 1997 amid the nation’s biggest health care fraud scandal. The company’s guilty plea and payment of $1.7 billion to settle charges including the overbilling of state and federal health programs was taken as a repudiation of Mr. Scott’s relentless bottom-line approach.

“He hopes people don’t Google his name,” said John E. Hartwig, a former deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, one of various state and federal agencies that investigated Columbia/HCA when Mr. Scott was its chief executive.

“He’s a great symbol from our point of view,” said Richard J. Kirsch, the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now. “We cannot have a better first person to attack health care reform than someone who ran a company that ripped off the government of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Some of the other groups anxious to oppose reform efforts are keeping their distance from Scott — he’s not exactly the ideal messenger for the far-right line — but congressional Republicans don’t seem to mind embracing him. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a member of the House health subcommittee, was so impressed with Scott’s deceptive television ads that he invited the conservative to the Hill for a meeting.

Expect to hear quite a bit more about him (and from him) as the debate unfolds.

UPDATE: Blue Girl has some first-hand knowledge of the fraud that got Scott fired.