TOPICS > Politics

Senator Bill Frist

January 27, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


BILL FRIST:  Thank you, Susan.

I’m Bill Frist, I’m a senator from the state of Tennessee, but I’ve spent the better part of my life working in hospitals, caring for people with heart disease.

I’ve learned a lot by listening to my patients and to the people who work in hospitals.

Earlier tonight we heard the President talk about his latest health care proposals. The last time he proposed a health plan was seven years ago. And then it amounted to a federal government takeover of our entire health system. It would have forced every American into a Washington-run HMO and denied them the right to choose their own doctor. In the end, thank goodness, it was soundly defeated by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Now tonight, 84 months later, the president has unveiled a similar plan just as bad as the first. It makes government even bigger and more bloated because each new program we heard about tonight – and there were about 11 of them in health care alone – comes with its own massive bureaucracy. And each will cost you, the taxpayer, billions more of your tax dollars -more than $1,000 for every man, woman, and child.

During my surgical fellowship, I worked in England for the British “National Health Service,” and I saw firsthand the rationing, the lack of choice, the long waits, and the denial of care for seniors.

I learned that socialized medicine – whether in England or in Canada, where patients are fleeing to the U.S. for treatment – just does not work

In fact, if David Letterman had lived in Canada, he’d still be waiting for his heart surgery!

But I think we all know that America’s health care system can be better. Costs are climbing. Too many people can’t get insurance or breakthrough drugs. Too many heavy-handed HMO’s tell doctors how to do their jobs.

And yet we should remember that Americans still enjoy the best and most advanced health care in the world. That’s why people from all over the globe come here for the latest treatments. If you have diabetes, or arthritis, or high blood pressure, chances are your medicines weren’t even around 10 years ago. Today, we live longer, and stay healthier, than ever before.

So a lot is good. A lot is working. But we still have to make it even better.

As Republicans in Congress we’re determined not to be guided by bigger government, but by your freedom to choose your kind of health care and to select the doctor of your choice. Already because of Republican efforts, five million more children now have access to health care; if you change jobs, you can now take your health insurance with you; new mothers can leave the hospital when their doctor, not some bureaucrat, says they’re ready. And we’re doubling medical research for more and better cures.

A great start but not enough.

As a doctor, I’ve cared for thousands of seniors. I know Medicare is their lifeline, their security.

But this 35-year-old program, with 130,000 pages of regulations creates waste and abuse, and leaves our seniors with confusing red tape and heartache. Worst of all, Medicare doesn’t ever include the mainstay of modern medicine – outpatient prescription drugs.

The answer is not government-dictated price controls that stop life-saving research, or forcing the 65 percent of seniors who now have drug coverage to pay more or give up what they have. Instead, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together with a plan to

build on two simple principles: choice and security. It lets people choose the type of medical plan that is best for them, including prescription drugs. No senior citizen, no mother, no person with a disability will ever be told by a bureaucrat what plan to pick, what doctor to see, or what service they can receive.

But just last year the president said “No” to this plan put forth by the “National Bipartisan Medicare Commission” – the very commission the President and Congress appointed to save Medicare.

However, I’m proud to say that I’ve asked for and received full assurances today from our Majority Leader, Trent Lott, that he is prepared to bring this needed bipartisan legislation to the Senate floor within two weeks. For this to happen, Mr. President, all we need is for you to tell the American people “Yes” to this Democrat and Republican plan to fix Medicare.

And tonight, to show you that we are sincere and that we mean business, Republicans take a first step toward making Medicare stronger. To guarantee that seniors can rely on Medicare forever, we will add it to the Social Security lockbox, which will lock away the surplus for both Social Security and Medicare. We will not let anyone spend your Medicare money.

We believe that neither HMO’s nor the government should be practicing medicine. That’s why Congress will, for the first time, send the president a real “Patients Bill of Rights,” with strong patient protections. In our plan, if you’re denied the treatment that you and your doctor decide is right you’ll get a quick appeal to an independent doctor.

Unlike the president, we see lawsuits as a last resort, not the first. Became as every American knows, your sick child needs to see a doctor, not a lawyer.

During the Clinton years, the number of individuals without health insurance has increased by six million people. But with the plan we announced yesterday, we will finally make it easier for low- and middle-income families to buy the coverage of their choice.

I believe we will dramatically improve medical care in America. How could anyone not be hopeful with what we’ve seen? Just look at our ability to correct heart defects in children, halt the progression of osteoporosis, and treat breast and prostate cancer.

Soon we’ll see revolutionary new treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s, sickle cell anemia and schizophrenia. But all of these innovations require freedom, because progress and freedom go hand in hand.

You know, my father was a family doctor for 55 years. As a young boy making housecalls with him, I remember his stethoscope, his doctor’s bag, and best of all his wonderful and compassionate heart. But these were his only tools. Just one generation later, he would join me on my rounds and he’d witness the miraculous new technologies and medicines that allowed us to transplant hearts and to give new life.

It’s all possible because Americans are blessed with the spirit to dream, the freedom to explore, and the work ethic to produce. And so tonight, Mr. President, I ask you to put your trust in the American people – in their creativity, in their resourcefulness, in their ability to achieve – free of government interference.

Mr. President, please, no more red tape. Instead, give us a health care plan that includes choice and security.

The American people deserve no less.

On behalf of Senator Collins and myself, thank you for being with us. Good night, and may God bless all of you and our great nation.