Health care reform’s unlikely GOP ally

HEALTH CARE REFORM’S UNLIKELY GOP ALLY…. Given the unanimous Republican opposition to health care reform, it continues to surprise me how much support former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has given to the Democratic effort.

During a press conference hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, for example, Frist said the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land” — and Republicans should accept that and, instead of repealing it, they should consider ways to build on it.

“It is not the bill that [Republicans] would have written,” said the Tennessee Republican, “It is not the bill that I would have drafted. But it is the law of the land and it is the platform, the fundamental platform, upon which all future efforts to make that system better, for that patient, for that family, will be based. And that is a fact. I know the discussion of Washington is repeal and I’m sure we will come back to that discussion…”

“[The bill] has many strong elements,” Frist added later. “And those elements, whatever happens, need to be preserved, need to be cuddled, need to be snuggled, need to be promoted and need to be implemented.”

Remember, this isn’t the first time Frist has offered support for the Democratic policy. He’s said he would have voted for the reform bill in the Senate (“That’s what leadership is all about,” Frist said in October ’09); he’s defended the individual mandate; and he’s even defended Dems using Senate reconciliation procedures that the GOP pretended to find outrageous.

After President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Frist spoke at the American Hospital Association’s annual meeting and said of the reform law, “I like the bill.” The comments came on the heels of Frist saying in a separate speech, “From a justice, fairness and equity standpoint, I’m very proud of this administration and that America has addressed this.”

In the larger context, I don’t really expect remarks like these to have a meaningful impact on public attitudes. Bill Frist wasn’t especially well known when he ran the Senate, and most Americans probably have no idea who he is now.

But I’m glad Frist is saying these things anyway. At a minimum, it offers Democrats a chance to note at least some bipartisan support for the law, and an opportunity to ask Republicans why, if the ACA is so outrageous and evil, their former Senate Majority Leader likes the law and wants them to drop their repeal crusade?