Wanted: Slightly Used Hospitals

In the new era of medical-cost cutting, a health-care entrepreneur builds an empire based on efficiency

Rick Scott remembers the first time he offered to buy HCA, the Hospital Corp. of America, based in Nashville, Tennessee. He offered $5 billion. Scott, then a 34-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, lawyer, had $125,000 in the bank. They laughed, he recalls fondly. "One guy in Dallas said, 'What are you going to do, Rick? Put it on your MasterCard?' "

A few months later in 1987, Scott quit his law-firm job, founded a company he called Columbia Hospital Corp. and started to buy individual hospitals for a living. Within five years, he and his investment partners raised enough money to buy...

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