Does Governor Scottdemort have 62 million reasons to protect pill mills?
Yesterday, I pointed out how Rick Scott is lying as he takes actions to protect Florida’s pill mills against regulations that are in place in most other states, at the cost of seven dead Floridians a day from pain medication overdoses. Today, I want to point out a huge conflict of interest Scott has as he takes these actions: Scott holds stock in Solantic Corporation valued at $62,034,298 according to the financial disclosure form (pdf) he filed with the state on June 18, 2010. The Solantic stock is the largest single holding in his overall net worth, which was stated as $218,589,004. Solantic is a chain of “urgent care” centers in Florida aimed at providing low-cost alternatives to some services otherwise provided by hospital emergency rooms. At Solantic’s website, on the page titled “Why Choose Solantic“, the second entry on their list of services is “Urgent Care for Injuries”. It does not take a huge leap of logic to conclude that someone “doctor shopping” for pain medication prescriptions would take an interest in visiting Solantic, since a visit there is less expensive than visiting a hospital emergency room. As he takes actions to prevent regulation of fraudulent pain medication prescriptions being issued in Florida, Rick Scott’s huge financial stake in Solantic makes it appear that he stands to benefit from his anti-regulatory actions.
When Carl Hiassen started pointing out how Scott is blocking regulation of pill mills back in January, he had this to say about legitimate medical providers’ views on the regulations:
Lawmakers had mandated that the state’s medical boards make strict new rules for the clinics, including penalties for violations. Legitimate pain-clinic operators and pharmacies generally supported the reforms.
Then in February, Hiassen pointed to Scott’s statement as he blocked creation of a database on pain medication prescriptions:
Last week, as drug agents secretly prepared to raid more than a dozen South Florida pill mills, Gov. Rick Scott reaffirmed his staunch opposition to a statewide computer database that would track prescriptions of Vicodin, Percocet and other dangerous narcotics.
Said Scott: “I don’t support the database. I believe it’s an invasion of privacy.”
Is Scott trying to protect the privacy of the company in which he holds a $62 million stake?
When Scott’s financial disclosure form was first made public, there was some discussion of the numerous conflicts of interest that would arise from a governor having such wealth, and Solantic was very much involved in those discussions. This statement from a Scott spokesperson just after the election addressed the Solantic conflicts as well as reports that Solantic had been accused of Medicare fraud (gosh, what a coincidence, considering Scott was responsible for HCA paying the largest federal fine in history when his previous company, HCA, was caught in Medicare fruad):
Scott spokesman Joe Kildea said: “We are unaware of any such investigation, and thus unaware of any actual conflict. That said, the governor-elect will take appropriate steps to ensure there is no conflict of interest with respect to any of his investments. We will have more on those steps in the coming weeks.”
Given that the article from which the quote comes also points out that even though “public officials can’t own stock in companies regulated by the state or work as employees of companies they regulate”, state regulations in the end can’t force him to divest the stock:
“There’s nothing affirmative the law imposes on him,” such as setting up a blind trust, said Phil Claypool, head of the Florida Commission on Ethics. “He just needs to be careful not to run afoul of any of the prohibitions.”
How does it not run afoul of those prohibitions for Scott to take the definitive actions of disbanding the Office of Drug Control and then blocking the prescription drug database when both would appear to affect operation of Solantic?
Solantic took a very interesting response to the charges of Medicare fraud in how they attacked the former employee who accused them:
The Agency for Health Care Administration, which investigates Medicaid fraud, forwarded a complaint compiling accusations made by former Solantic employee Dr. Randy Prokes to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for review and possible investigation, a spokeswoman for the agency confirmed.
Among his charges, Prokes says Solantic charged Medicare patients the full rate for work done by nurse-practitioners, which should be discounted to 85 percent of the rate of a physician visit.
Solantic CEO Karen Bowling denied the allegations in a call with reporters last week, saying Prokes was fired in 2009 for writing a pain-killer prescription outside the clinic, an action prohibited by the company’s operating procedures.
For some reason, Solantic firing an employee who had fallen from their good graces because of writing a pain-killer prescription outside the clinic made me think immediately of when ADM, once they learned he had been an FBI mole, fired Mark Whitaker for taking “off the books” payments that almost certainly had been a practice for all ADM high level executives.
To be clear, I’ve seen no evidence so far that Solantic is involved in writing fraudulent pain medication prescriptions. What I am saying though, is that Rick Scott’s actions on the issue of pill mill regulation are precisely what one would predict if he were trying to prevent discovery of such activity in a company in which he holds a $62 million stake. So long as he holds this huge stake in a company that can write pain medication prescriptions, his actions regarding pill mills deserve much scrutiny.