This may be grabbing at straws that there is some hope for ending the poisonous partisan deadlock over "Obamacare," but it could be a positive sign that former Senate Republican leader Bill Frist is emerging as a voice in the health care debate.
And in one of those "only in Washington" tectonic political shifts, he is doing it in partnership with former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. Many believe the two politicians would never speak to each other again — let alone cooperate on remaking one of Congress' most far-reaching laws.
Frist defied tradition and Senate collegiality by campaigning against Daschle in the Democrat's home state of South Dakota, a race Daschle ultimately lost.
But now the two have united under the banner of the Bipartisan Policy Center to defend critical sections of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, large sections of which Frist agrees with, an act of heresy in GOP congressional circles.
Frist knows health care and health care policy. He's a heart-lung transplant surgeon whose family founded a giant hospital-management company. He is working with other health care specialists on a report due out early next year — and it will not recommend repealing the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans say will be their first order of business if they are in charge.
The problem for congressional Republicans is that the public is coming to like parts of the Obama plan — universal access, not being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, no lifetime limit on coverage and coverage for dependents up to age 26.
And there is great skepticism among older voters about the Romney-Ryan plan to begin replacing Medicare and its direct payments with vouchers to buy private health insurance.
Frist is a strong advocate of the individual mandate and the state-based health-insurance exchanges. And for all the bogus GOP talk of "death panels," he is calling for reforms to incentives to use expensive high technology on terminally ill patients. He has noted that 30 percent of Medicare costs, more than $150 billion annually, is spent in the last months of life.
The Republican slogan of "repeal and replace" has a nice ring to it, but is probably politically unworkable. There are ways to reform health care, however, and Frist and Daschle could provide the gravitas and bipartisanship to make that happen.
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