Frist Crosses Lines for Universal Health Care

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In the Senate, he was seen as a reliable Republican and a champion of conservative causes.

Yet, nearly three years after leaving the political world, former majority leader Bill Frist is back in the headlines for his support of health care reform.

"This week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out in support of reform, joining two former Senate majority leaders: Bob Dole and Dr. Bill Frist," President Obama acknowledged.

In a Time Magazine article, Frist said he believes it's wrong for 46 million Americans to be uninsured and that he'd probably end up voting for a health care reform bill if he were still in the Senate.

His comments, however, puts him at odds with many of the GOP colleagues he once led.

"I can tell you if you don't have insurance, you don't get to see me until later. Until you come to the emergency room [and] I cut your heart out to put a heart in," Frist said. "When you should be able to come see me is to come and say, "Oh, I've got high blood pressure. Could you give me anti-hypertension medication?' It's that simple."

The Senate Finance Committee approved this week their $829 billion health care bill, which Frist says should be more focused on patients and be provider-friendly-- rather than expand more government control.

"If we don't get it right, it will be an experiment that fails and America doesn't want an experiment that may fail on their own health care," he said.

Frist is also concerned that the current plan fails to contain the rising costs of health care.

"I worry about this mortgaging our kids future with entitlement programs, with the expansion of entitlement programs with mandates that we simply can't sustain," he said. "I think the government needs to cut back in spending and to have a $2 trillion health care bill is not the way to go."

Still, Frist sees President Obama's number one domestic priority as a done deal.

Frist, a heart surgeon now author and advocate for healthy living, also addressed another issue garnering a healthy dose of skepticism-- the H1N1 virus.

Polls show more and more Americans are wary of getting a flu shot to avoid the swine flu.

"It is a safe vaccine," he said. "People under 24 should get it. If you're pregnant get it. No matter what age you should get it, and it is safe."

Frist was recently a guest on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher where the host -- like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck --expressed concern about the vaccine.

He says the common professional consensus is that the shot is safe and effective.

*Originally published Saturday, October 17, 2009

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