(Host) Following in the wake of a succession of Democratic presidential hopefuls, Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist visited Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon on Friday. Appearing on behalf of President Bush, Frist outlined what he says are the administration’s key health care accomplishments.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Frist) “The patient was prepped in the usual sterile fashion and a midline incision was made. Oh, wait a minute, I’m in politics.”
(Zind) Speaking to doctors, nurses and students at Dartmouth Hitchcock, Frist immediately established his own medical credentials. The Tennessee senator is a surgeon turned politician.
Frist says the president has made key strides health care, including recently passed legislation reforming Medicare and a doubling of funding for medical research. First on Frist’s list was the president’s pledge of $15 billion for the global fight against AIDS. The president made the announcement last year in his State of the Union Address. Frist says the decision to draw attention to the AIDS epidemic was a courageous one.
(Frist) “A year ago today, America had not declared war against HIV/AIDS. The president of the United States in the State of the Union speech – to the surprise of the world – stood forth and made a statement that, in essence, is the greatest humanitarian and public health challenge of our time is a medical one.”
(Zind) When one audience member pointed out that the administration had so far spent less than expected on combating AIDS, Frist said it’s going to take time to build the infrastructure to deliver care in third world countries before the money can be used.
Frist says the administration wants to extend health care to America’s uninsured through tax credits, a modest extension of federal programs and by cutting health care costs through insurance industry reform. He said plans by some Democratic candidates to include many of the nation’ 43 million uninsured in government programs are too expense and don’t address the problem of increasing health care costs. And Frist says he’s often asked about fellow doctor Howard Dean.
(Frist) “A lot of people ask about the physician background. It really has no play whatsoever. People’s experiences are all very different. I respect him being a doctor and I’m sure he was a very, very good doctor. He’s making headway as a politician. At the end of the day, though, on principals, on policy, on substance he is not going to be able to match the standards of President George W. Bush.”
(Zind) Frist is travelling in New Hampshire this week in a bus emblazoned with the words ‘New Hampshire is Bush Country.’ Though the political season has been dominated by the Democratic contenders, Republicans are also holding a primary in New Hampshire on January 27.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Lebanon.