Rick Scott: Florida’s Drug Fraud Enabler?

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In 1997, Rick Scott was implicated in the biggest Medicare fraud case in US history, stepping down as CEO of Columbia/HCA after the hospital giant was fined $1.7 billion and found guilty of swindling the government. As Florida’s new governor, Scott is now trying to kill off an anti-fraud database that would track the fraudulent distribution of addictive prescription drugs in Florida, over the protestations of law enforcement officials, Republican state lawmakers, and federal drug policy officials. 

Without consulting state lawmakers, Scott snuck a repeal of the database in his budget this year, despite the fact that it will cost Florida no money. (It’s funded by federal money and private donations.) The governor claims the database—which allows doctors to search patient drug purchases for potential abuses—would amount to an invasion of privacy, as the New York Times notes in a story about state Republicans who are at war with Scott. Lawmakers from both parties and patient advocates who fought for the creation of the database are flabbergasted: some view the resource as a critical tool in combating black-market drug traffic, the proliferation of pain clinics, and the abuse of prescription drugs.

Florida is at the center of national epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Prescription drugs are estimated to kill seven people a day in the state, and the number of overdose deaths from oxycodone alone doubled to 1,185 between 2006 and 2009. As a result, Scott has received a hailstorm of criticism from all sides, as the St. Peterberg Times reports:

“This is a step in the wrong direction,” said Capt. Robert Alfonso, head of the narcotics division of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. “We were looking forward to using it…”

“It makes no logical or rational sense,” said Paul Sloan, a Venice-based pain clinic owner and president of the Florida Society of Pain Management Providers. “It’s absolutely absurd. This is the most important weapon in the fight against prescription drug abuse…”

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has been a champion of efforts to fight prescription drug abuse and sponsored the drug monitoring legislation, rapped the governor for sliding his proposal into his mass of budget recommendations.

“I’m extremely, extremely disappointed with the governor and his administration for sneaking this into a…bill,” Fasano said.

Scott is also taking aim at Florida’s Office of Drug Control, which is charged with raising private money for the database. His repeal effort has even caught the attention of the Obama administration, whose “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske is currently trying to meet with Scott to persuade him not kill off the database.

Scott has made it clear that he doesn’t plan to stop with the anti-fraud database. As the New York Times adds, he’s also making a big push to privatize Medicaid as well—supposedly to save the state money—while trying to give corporations and property owners $1.7 billion in tax breaks. 

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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