Trump named Rick Scott architect of new GOP health plan, but Florida senator is focused on 'narrow improvements' to existing system

In remarks to reporters March 28, President Donald Trump said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is one of three senators leading the effort to design a Republican healthcare plan that will establish the GOP as the "party of healthcare." Yet in an NPR interview Monday, Mr. Scott said he is focused on making incremental improvements to the existing healthcare system, such as lowering drug prices.

"Let's talk about what the Republican approach really is here," said NPR's Steve Inskeep. "From talking with other Senate Republicans, we get the impression the idea is to really stop trying to repeal and replace Obamacare and just find some narrower improvements in the existing system. Is that a fair description?"

"Well, that's what I'm doing," said Mr. Scott. "Drug prices are too high, so I put a bill out last week that would require transparency so you know what things cost. But on top of that, it's not fair that [Americans] pay more for drugs than Europeans pay. I had the same problem when I was in the healthcare business. I had hospitals in America and in Europe, and the drug companies wanted to charge us more in America. I said that's not fair and I'm not going to do it. I think we have to have that exact same attitude. … That's my bill, and that's what I'm going to focus on."

Mr. Scott is referring to his March 29 unveiling of the Transparent Drug Pricing Act. The bill would prohibit drugmakers from charging American consumers more for prescription drugs than consumers in other industrialized nations and require pharmacies to inform patients of a drug's cost out-of-pocket and insurance companies to inform patients of the total costs of their prescription drugs 60 days prior to open enrollment.

Mr. Inskeep asked Mr. Scott whether hospitals are a big part of healthcare's cost problem, noting Mr. Scott has direct experience with the sector as the former CEO of Columbia/HCA. The company owned more than 340 hospitals, 135 surgery centers and 550 home-health locations by the time Mr. Scott resigned in 1997, months after federal agents announced a Medicare and Medicaid fraud investigation into the company. The company ended up paying the government $1.7 billion in criminal fines, civil damages and penalties over two rounds of settlements, making it a record-breaking federal health fraud case at the time.

Mr. Scott pointed to the delivery system at large as a problem versus singling out hospitals.

"The entire delivery system is an issue,” said Mr. Scott. “I passed legislation when I was governor [of Florida] to require hospitals to disclose their prices. We've got to make this more simplistic and more transparent so you as a consumer have better information. That's true for the pharmacy, that's true for the hospital, that's true for the insurance company."  

Mr. Scott noted bipartisan support to address drug prices, noting his attendance in a budget committee meeting last week where "everybody, including (Sen.) Bernie Sanders (Vt.-I) was all in on lowered drug prices. I think the idea that we should not pay more than Europeans pay…I think that's pretty common sense. I'm optimistic we can get that done."

The two other Republican senators President Trump named as point people for the GOP's new healthcare plan are John Barrasso of Wyoming and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

Listen to Mr. Scott's interview with NPR in full here

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