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New Senate Leader Must 'Do No Harm'
[January 2, 2003]

By S.M. Oliva

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is well known for being the Senate’s only doctor. A heart surgeon by training, Sen. Frist has occasionally made the news for coming to the rescue during his tenure in office, including an incident this weekend, where he provided on-site assistance to accident victims in Florida. Because of his unique position, Frist is considered an authority on healthcare policy, and President Bush is expected to rely on the new majority leader heavily in the coming Congress to pass an array of health legislation.

This is all well and good if you’re a defender of the status quo. That is to say, if you like government-run healthcare, you’ll love Bill Frist. The Tennessee senator is no friend of the free market when it comes to his own profession, and his agenda for health care will move America several steps closer to the abyss of socialized medicine. Frist’s credibility with the media as a doctor could actually make the damage worse, since he’ll largely be spared intellectual criticism of his positions.

Frist’s most active advocacy has been on behalf of the National Institutes for Health, whose funding Frist has tried to double in recent years. Frist believes scientific research is best left to the government, even though centralized planning and political agendas are often the enemies of true scientific discovery. In addition, Frist is an avowed opponent of cloning, even for research purposes. His official statement is that he is “unable to find a compelling justification for allowing human cloning,” a statement that implies research may only proceed with government (and religious) permission.

Frist is also a fan of government financing of healthcare. He’s actively supported efforts to enact a “patient’s bill of rights” which would expand government control over health insurance. Frist’s also encouraged the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on pharmaceutical companies attempting to protect their patents against generic manufacturers. And the majority leader has shown no inclination to significantly alter Medicaid and Medicare; indeed he supports the ever-popular prescription drug benefit for seniors. 

There is nothing in Frist’s Senate record to show that he’s even considered free-market options or principles for rescuing America’s rapidly dying healthcare system. Of particular note to me is his complete silence on the issue of physician rights. Every year, the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department increase their attacks on doctors, preventing them from jointly negotiating with insurance companies to secure better pay. This behavior is considered illegal restraint of trade by the government, even though it’s legal for every other profession in the country. Doctors are targeted because HMOs are cartels actively backed by government intervention, and the doctors are the scapegoats for the high costs and poor service that result from government-managed healthcare. It’s gotten to the point where doctors can’t even speak with one another about fee-related issues. If that sounds like a blatant violation of the First Amendment, it is. But you don’t see anyone in Congress—not even Bill Frist, M.D.—paying any attention. The senator’s indifference to the suffering of his own colleagues is despicable, but it shows what his true principles are—physicians exist to serve the public, just as serfs exist to serve their feudal masters.

The first duty of a physician is to “do no harm,” yet Frist’s policies harm patients—and doctors—every single day. Now that he’s risen to become majority leader, Frist should reconsider his priorities. It’s time for less federal spending, less federal regulation, and a greater reliance on the true producers in the healthcare industry—the physicians that once considered Bill Frist a colleague.

 

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