Frist backpedaling on ObamaCare support

Last week, Democrats jumped all over a statement from former Senator Bill Frist as proof that their efforts to overhaul the American health-care system was centrist and reasonable.  Frist said that he would be inclined to vote for the reform bills wending their way through Senate committees, joining other former Senate GOP leaders Bob Dole and Howard Baker in showing support for the Senate’s direction.  Today, though, Frist has backpedaled somewhat, telling ABC Radio that he wouldn’t vote for the Baucus plan — at least not at the moment:

In an interview with ABC News Radio this morning, Frist, R-Tenn., offered significant caveats, and said he actually doesn’t support the Senate Finance Committee’s latest draft of health care reform — considered the most conservative of five bills now circulating on Capitol Hill.

“There are five bills on the floor now — none of them are perfect. People try to put words in my mouth saying ‘You support the Baucus bill.’ I don’t support the Baucus bill as written today,” said Frist, a former heart surgeon who left the Senate in 2007. He has a new book out about health care.

Frist added: “We will see a health care bill. There are five bills out there. I’m pushing the process; it’s not where I want it to be. It’s going to cost way too much and we’re not going to get all the uninsured into the marketplace.”

“The Republicans right now feel like they’ve been left out of the table,” Frist said. “There’s some egregious things in there that will cost all the taxpayers too much money and not give them anything.”

Unfortunately, Frist — a physician and surgeon himself — misses the point of Republican objections to the bills under debate.  The problem is not the idea of reform itself.  Most people agree that costs have risen too far, and that portability and pre-existing condition exclusions are both big problems.  That relates to the unsupportable financial model of comprehensive, employer-based insurance, which ObamaCare proposes to make even worse with a government option and locked-in employer offerings, at least in the short term, and the inevitable single-payer result this even more faulty model will produce.

If Frist wants to “shape the debate,” he should be talking about a reform that will actually address overuse, abuse, and the opacity of price to the consumers.  We should encourage the growth of health-savings accounts and catastrophic insurance coverage, removing third-party payers from most of the routine health-care services and allowing consumers to see true costs and providers to compete more directly.  At the very least, we should allow insurers to compete across state lines in order to give consumers more choice and more control.

Nothing in any of the bills in Congress move in the correct direction.  They all propose options that will reduce consumer choice, make prices even more opaque, and put government in charge of health-care options.  We do not need state exchanges to find medical insurance, after all, any more than we need state-sponsored food exchanges, state-sponsored housing exchanges, or state-run clothing exchanges to find those products or services for ourselves.  And yet Frist and a few other Republicans keep signaling an openness to this approach as if they have never considered the fact that government has created most of the problems ObamaCare purports to resolve through bad tax policy and a Medicare/Medicaid system that creates unfunded mandates and drives providers out of those markets in order to survive.

We need fresh voices and market-oriented solutions, such as the bill that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has tried to get out of committee for months.  Republican leaders of the past and present who argue for slightly less statism as a means of being “moderate” and “reasonable” will not be part of the future.