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Why Does This Former U.S. Senate Republican Majority Leader Support Obama's Health Care Reform?

04/25/2012 05:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2012
  • Rosemary Gibson Author, 'Medicare Meltdown,' 'The Battle Over Health Care,' 'The Treatment Trap' and 'Wall of Silence'

Bill Frist is the former U.S. Senate Republican Majority Leader from Tennessee whose name was once mentioned as a possible contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2008. During the heat of the health care reform debate, he sang the praises of President Obama's health care reform.

His stance raises the question, "Why?" Does the explanation provide insight into why conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court might think twice about striking down the health care reform law?

Frist told Time magazine during the reform debate that if he had remained in the Senate, he would have supported health care reform. "I would end up voting for it," he said. "As leader, I would take heat for it. ... That's what leadership is all about."

Inquiring minds will recall that Bill Frist's family owns for-profit hospital giant HCA. Frist's father, Thomas Frist, Sr., and brother, Thomas Frist, Jr., founded HCA in 1968, three years after President Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law. Today, Thomas Frist, Jr. is the largest shareholder in the company, according to Forbes. He and his family rank No. 120 in the Forbes list of U.S. billionaires as of March 2012.

The company stands to benefit financially from the health care reform law if, with a stroke of a pen, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Thirty-two million people will become new, paying customers. Many will become HCA customers.

Earlier this month, The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young wrote, "Health care reform repeal would slam big hospital chains like HCA ..." citing an assessment by Moody's Investor Services if the Supreme Court strikes down the law.

In other words, health care reform -- if it moves forward -- will be a boon to for-profit hospitals and other health care businesses as they expand to accommodate millions of new customers.

As reported in The Battle Over Health Care: What Obama's Reform Means for America's Future, the same institutions that have made health care unaffordable, wasteful, and, too often, harmful were rewarded with an even larger canvas on which to paint America's health care future.

Thirty percent of the $2.5 trillion in national health care spending, or about $700 billion a year, doesn't add value to Americans' health. It is wasted on overtreatment, inefficiency, and fraud. The amount is about the same as the one-time, controversial federal stimulus enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama during the depths of the Great Recession. The health care industry gets to keep its annual fiscal stimulus thanks to the blind generosity of the public.

So, contrary to popular belief, not all Republicans will be disappointed if the U.S. Supreme Court decides that the health care reform law is constitutional. Wall Street investment firms, and their clients, will be popping the champagne and padding your hospital bill to pay for it.

Rosemary Gibson led national quality and safety initiatives at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ for 16 years. She is the author of a new book, The Battle Over Health Care: What Obama's Reform Means for America's Future. She is also principal author of Wall of Silence and The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do To Prevent It.

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