If you’ve ever wondered what your doctor thinks of the healthcare debate, Bill Frist provides the next best thing in his new book, “A Heart to Serve: The Passion to Bring Health, Hope, and Healing.” As a heart and lung transplant surgeon, he has lived the issue — and also happens to be the former Republican Senate majority leader.
In a Newsmax interview, Frist paints a nuanced portrait. Saying some aspects of the healthcare apparatus are in major need of reform, Frist says streamlining or eliminating senseless paperwork would cut healthcare costs by 30 percent.
“For every hour an emergency room doctor spends treating a patient, there’s an hour’s worth of red tape and paperwork,” Frist says. “Obviously that does not benefit the patient directly and ends up being wasteful and inefficient. It’s the sort of waste and abuse that can be stripped out of the system with more transparency, better information technology, more consumerism, more individual choice.”
Nuisance lawsuits drive up costs and scare doctors away from the profession, Frist says.
“I teach a class at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” Frist says. “I was with medical students nine hours last week, and I had to tell each one of them that you’re going to be sued for sure when you get out of here. You’re going to be sued for more than a million dollars, and you’re going to be sued more than three times, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.”
On top of graduating with an average of $130,000 of debt, they will face crushing paperwork and reduced reimbursement by government insurance programs.
“Obviously, over time, people are simply not going to go into the field of medicine,” Frist says. “It used to be that if you were a mom or a dad who was a doctor, and you had a son or a daughter, that statistically something like 60 percent of your children would go into the practice of medicine 30 years ago. And now it’s down to 4 percent.”
Frist says he applauds President Obama for addressing the problem of the uninsured and the need for improved information technology.
“There are more than 20 million people who are hardcore uninsured, who do not have affordable access to our healthcare system,” Frist notes. “They eventually get in, but they die sooner, they get less preventive care, they get less treatment for heart disease, cancers, and the like.”
Frist says he respects Obama for addressing healthcare as the first big domestic issue after dealing with the financial crisis.
“He is doing so at a time where the American people are not demanding it, most Americans are satisfied with their health care, but he realizes that in terms of the inner relationship with our economy it’s important. It’s important to our global competitiveness, and from a moral standpoint it’s a right thing to do, with so many people uninsured,” Frist says.
But Frist rejects Obama’s solutions.
“I’m disappointed in the health proposals to date that are relying more on a continuation of the status quo rather than transformational reform,” he says. “Overall, at critical moments he’s made some mistakes, like last week, in the middle of the healthcare debate, at a critical time, leaving and changing the focus and flying over for the Olympics [lobbying]. That comes from inexperience and I hope that that will be minimized.”
Overall, the American healthcare system is “the best in the world in terms of science, technology, and treatments such as for cancer,” Frist says. What is needed, he says, is “a public-private partnership that would focus on a patient-centered, consumer-driven, provider-friendly organization that is driven by 21st-century information and more choice.”
Frist predicts that Obama will be in “big trouble” if “the economy in terms of job creation does not turn around; if healthcare becomes too partisan an issue, even if it passes; and if his handling of Afghanistan slips. Looking at the trends over the last three months, I think that the Democrats will for sure lose seats in the Senate and in the House. That number, depending on the outcome of the healthcare debate, may increase.”
In his book, Frist recounts the action he took to save the life of Russell E. Weston, who was shot by Capitol Police officers on July 24, 1998, after he walked into the Capitol through a doorway on the east side and shot and killed Capitol Police Officer Jacob J. Chestnut, who manned a security post there.
Without knowing the circumstances, he saw a man “lying on the floor in a pool of blood, I recognized immediately that his condition was critical,” Frist writes. “The head wound was massive. I turned him on his back and did a 10-second exam,” Frist recalls. “I began resuscitation efforts immediately.”
Frist hopes “A Heart to Serve” will be seen as an inspirational book rather than a political memoir.
“It’s written with a series of hopefully inspirational stories based on my life, but more important, the lives of others, after 20 years in medicine, 12 years in politics, and about 10 years in the global health arena,” he says. “I hope that the reader will get the message that what I want them to do is dig deep, discover their own passions, and then actively develop them and shape them in a way that benefits the community.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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