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National NOW Times >> Spring 2003 >> Article

"Good Doctor" Frist Doesn't Care About Women's Health

by Michele Keller, Web Editor and Bushra Khan, Communications Intern

"George W. Bush wants you to think of his close friend, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, as the 'good doctor' who proves that the Republican party is no longer led by racist throwbacks like Trent Lott," said NOW Membership Vice President Terry O'Neill.

"He'd like you to believe that Frist, with his background as a surgeon, is an outside-the-Beltway type who's actually concerned about the average American's health," O'Neill said. "What Bush doesn't want you to know—what would spoil the 'good doctor' image—is that Frist is rabidly anti-abortion and is using his Senate position to reward big business and protect his family's massive fortune in the health care industry."

The truth is that Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., holds millions of dollars of equity in his family's Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the country's largest for-profit HMO, which was recently the subject of the longest-running health care fraud inquiry in government history. Frist has demonstrated he'll go to any length to protect the interests of his family's company, and the health care industry overall, and he is not willing to recuse himself from involvement on issues that might present ethical conflicts.

Case in point: While the homeland-security bill was being drawn up at the end of the session in 2002, someone in the Senate inserted a two-paragraph provision that would shield pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly from lawsuits brought by parents convinced that a preservative used in the company's vaccines caused autism in their children. Frist never owned up to adding the provision, but it was nearly identical to one he had authored earlier in the session.

Additionally, Frist didn't withdraw from the Senate debates on the Medicare commission and the Patients' Bill of Rights—both of which aimed to limit the special treatment enjoyed by HMOs—even though his family's massive healthcare conglomerate (HCA) was being investigated by the government for health care fraud at the time and had an obvious stake in their outcome. Then in December 2002, just as Frist was being anointed as Senate Majority Leader, HCA announced an $840 million settlement with the Justice Department. No criminal charges were brought against Frist's billionaire brother, who runs HCA, or any other executives.

"The Bush administration handpicked Frist for this post," warns O'Neill, "and is counting on the fact that we're all so preoccupied with war and terrorism issues, things like this will just slip through the cracks."

And don't think you've seen the end of it yet: Frist has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Vice President Dick Cheney on the presidential ticket in 2004.

Doctor Frist Doesn't Always Know Best

Since his election to the Senate in 1994, Frist has been considered the Senate's authority on health care issues. But a closer look at his record reveals that Frist:

  • Voted to ban abortion procedures via the so-called Partial Birth Abortion bill, which is written so vaguely that it would ban many abortion procedures throughout pregnancy, and makes no exception for a woman's health;

  • Voted against lifting the ban on privately-funded abortions at U.S. military hospitals. Approximately 100,000 women serve on U.S. military bases overseas, many in countries where safe, legal abortion is not available;

  • Voted to prohibit federal funding for emergency contraception distribution on school property, and voted to allow $75 million in funding for abstinence-only sex education;

  • Supported the global gag rule, which cuts family planning funds to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion services or support legal abortion—even if those NGOs use separate funds to do so;

  • Supported ultra-conservative appointments including John Ashcroft, D. Brooks Smith, Charles Pickering and Miguel Estrada and will likely support radical right, anti-abortion nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court;

  • Opposed potentially lifesaving fetal tissue and cloning research, in a nod to anti-abortion extremists; and

  • Voted against the Patients' Bill of Rights, which makes it easier for people to get medical services and allows patients to sue HMOs for failure to provide adequate treatment.

NOW encourages members to pass this information along to everyone they know. One of the biggest challenges leading up to the 2004 elections will be educating ourselves in spite of an obedient press.

"The Bush administration is pushing its stealth domestic agenda under the cover of war and fear," said O'Neill. "Feminists must set the record straight on Bill Frist and the danger he and other right-wing leaders pose to women's rights."

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