Politics

01.25.13

Why Do So Many People Not Do What They're Supposed to Do?

This Times story this morning about HCA, the for-profit hospital chain, having to pay $162 million to a group representing some Kansas City hospitals it screwed over makes for depressing reading.

HCA bought 11 KC=area nonprofit hospitals looking to convert them. When it made the purchase in 2003, HCA promised that it would spend a certain amount on equipment and physical plant upgrades, and that it would provide certain levels of charitable care to poor patients. It did neither. The foundation set up to oversee things sued, and it went to trial:

After repeatedly asking HCA executives for explanations but receiving none, the foundation sued HCA in 2009. The case went to trial for several weeks in 2011.

HCA argued in the trial that it had met its obligation to spend money on hospital facilities by building two new hospitals at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than repairing older facilities. But Judge John Torrence of Jackson County Circuit Court ruled that the agreement called for improvements to existing hospitals...

...One HCA report said it provided $48 million in charitable care to the area in 2009 while another report on its Web site said it provided more than $87 million. The annual report to the foundation claimed it provided $185 million in uncompensated and charity care that year, the judge wrote.

During the trial, when asked about the widely differing numbers, the president of HCA’s Midwest division and other HCA executives had no explanation.

Now I'm sure HCA--it was founded by the father of former GOP Senate leader Bill Frist--does its share of good in the world, but it does have a history. It was from his perch at HCA that Rick Scott overcharged the government for various Medicare services, leading to guilty pleas on 14 felony counts.

But they're too big to fail, I guess. And Scott walked away with a $10 million settlement and is now of course the governor of Florida, solemnly defending the public trust by doing his best to make sure black people can't vote.

When I read things like this Times story, I can't help but shake my head. People complain about the heavy hand of the government? The poor government can't begin to keep up with the number of crooks and hornswagglers out there screwing people and communities over in hundreds of different ways.

The government should have tried to bring cases against any number of people at the center of the financial crisis--notably Dick Fuld, but many others. But those prosecutions are extremely hard to make these days. And so people skate away, almost always with millions in their pockets like Scott, and companies often don't admit wrongdoing as part of a settlement, and so on.

This is where our society is rotting, this is where our "values" are mocked. Single mothers? Gay people getting married? Are you kidding me? Please. And while this sort of thing has gone on since forever, the phenomenon of things like obviously shady CEOs walking away with millions, or obviously guilty companies admitting no wrongdoing and we the people being forced to accept that so they'll pony up some money, is relatively new--just the last 30 years, when the dollars at risk in all such situations have shot to the stratosphere and market position has become so consuming. It doesn't have to be permanent, but it probably is, unfortunately, and it makes everyone feel that society is just some kind of scam.