The Hightower Report

HealthSouth's ethics need rehabilitation.

Scrushy the Scoundrel

Oh, ye knaves! Ye marauding mongrel masses that so callously seek the heads of corporate CEOs and howl for mob justice. How wrong ye are! And what better example of the wrongheadedness of mobocracy than the trials and tribulations of Lord Richard M. Scrushy.

Scrushy is the head dog at HealthSouth, the nation's biggest operator of rehab hospitals and clinics. With his fat salary, luxurious home, lavish lifestyle, and conspicuous philanthropy, he's long been assumed to be skimming cream from the public health system. Then came his curious actions a few months ago when he up and sold nearly $100 million worth of stock in HealthSouth -- only one month before the company suddenly announced to other sad-sack stockholders that a change in its billing procedures would -- ahem -- be "unpleasant" for them.

Indeed, the share prices promptly fell from about $16 to $4. It seems that Scrushy had been billing Medicare for individual therapy sessions when, in fact, his therapists had been treating the patients in group sessions.

Bad boy. Richard, who'd been the toast of his home state of Alabama, now found himself vilified by Wall Street and locals alike. How could he cover his own butt while so selfishly kicking the butts of others, they wondered?

Ah, but now, all is made well. The New York Times headline declared: "Inquiry Exonerates Chairman of HealthSouth." Good press! But down in the story we learn that the "inquiry" had been conducted by a law firm HealthSouth itself had hired.

The company refused to release the law firm's full report, as it had earlier promised to do, instead issuing only an edited version of the concluding paragraph. And even this was hardly exculpatory, saying only that the in-house investigators "uncovered no oral or written document" to prove that Scrushy is a scoundrel.

The more these guys protest their virtue, the more they confirm their villainy.

Invasion of the Gooberheads

It's time for another Gooberhead Award -- presented periodically to someone in the news who has their mouth running 100 miles an hour ... but forgot to put their brain in gear.

Today, I've got a dandy for you: Rep. David Vitter. This Louisiana Republican was the sponsor of an amendment that got practically no media coverage when it was quietly added to George W.'s big education reform law, which the White House PR flacks dubbed the "No Child Left Behind Act." But Mother Jones magazine has dug Vitter's sneaky amendment out of this massive, 670-page bill, and you might want to know about it, since it affects every high school kid in America.

It seems that a small percentage of the nation's high schools do not allow military recruiters inside their buildings. Despite this local prerogative, the military is still able to exceed its annual recruiting goals, so there's no national issue at stake. But Rep. Vitter got his tights all twisted up by the actions of these schools -- he says that they are showing "an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive." So this Goober, who calls himself a conservative, has imperviously decided to overrule local officials and require not only that all schools must allow recruiters into their buildings, but much more sweepingly, must literally hand over the private contact numbers and addresses for every student.

The Pentagon already is on the march into our schools and literally into our homes, using Vitter's amendment to demand that local school authorities hand over entire student directories -- usually without informing students or their families. Indeed, military recruiters say they'll aggressively pursue students at home, even if the parents object. Meanwhile, thanks to another little-known law, the Pentagon can share your child's personal data with other agencies and with corporations.

To fight such Big Brother invasions by the Gooberheads, call the Center for Democracy and Technology: 202/637-9800.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Lord Richard M. Scrushy, HealthSouth, Medicare

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