Profits come first with Frist

Some have said that switching from U.S. Senate leader Trent Lott (R-S.C.) to Dr. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is like going from the frying pan into the fire. Well, that isn’t entirely true, but analyzing voting records and families’ businesses, that would certainly seem to be the case.

Be clear, there is no doubt that Lott had to go. Such an open appeal to racism had to result in Lott’s dismissal from Senate leadership; he should have been forced to resign from the Senate. He had become an embarrassment to the anti-people strategies of the Bush administration.

Frist has extensive medical credentials. But the problem is that for people in need of medical coverage those credentials will provide little help. In fact, they will be the opposite. Why?

Frist is a member of the family that owns and runs the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the largest for-profit hospital system in the United States, and thus represents everything that is wrong with medical professionals. It was HCA that was caught fraudulently handling Medicare monies, resulting in indictments and millions of dollars in fines. Frist should be serving time, rendering treatment to fellow inmates in some federal prison.

Frist ran his form of a populist campaign, which included stating that he would limit his tenure to just two terms. Although this seemed to be a humble thing to say, nothing could be further from the reality. Frist wanted to develop the impression that he sought no power for himself or his family. He is bright enough to know that his thin veneer of a humane cardiologist will surely wear thin when his voting record against the public interest and for profits in health care became evident.

That process is happening now as outlined in a recent New York Times article titled, “Bush seeks sweeping changes in Medicare.” Frist’s aim is to take the failed privatization of Medicare (the Medicare Plus/HMO fiasco) and make the system even more profitable for insurance companies and for-profit hospitals.

As most policy advocates know, the privatization of federal Medicare program started from the very outset of Medicare in the 1960s. Shortly before his death, Wilber Mills, the architect of Medicare, said that the biggest mistake he and his colleagues made at that time was to make it possible for private insurance carriers to substitute for the federal Medicare program, which he and others saw as the next step toward national health legislation.

But it wasn’t until the failure to enact national health legislation in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, that the insurance carriers set their sights on Medicare and the billions of tax dollars that flow into the program. Thus the lie that the Medicare program would be less costly in the hands of private insurance companies.

Since then every Medicare privatization experiment has failed. But, failure has not stopped them and they now have a new “solution” – complete privatization, prettified with a privatized prescription drug plan.

Frist’s major goal during his stewardship of the U.S. Senate will be to use his medical credentials to make Medicare a profit windfall for the profiteers.

He can and must be stopped. What better issue to serve as the glue of a labor/community fight for a national health plan?

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org