September 11, 2009

When the GOP trotted out the hapless Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) to deliver the response to President Obama, the former cardiologist became just the latest Republican physician deployed to halt health care reform. As it turns out, the repentant Birther was an unfortunate choice to carry the GOP banner of tort reform, given his own history of malpractice suits. Of course, as his colleagues Tom Price, Tom Coburn and Bill Frist all show, when it comes to the politics of health care, Boustany isn't the only Republican doctor offering Americans the wrong diagnosis and bad prescriptions.

Georgia's Tom Price, a one-time orthopedic surgeon and current chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is a case in point. While the GOP tried to block the passage of Medicare in the 1960's and tried to slash its budget by 15% in the 1990's, today's Republicans pretend to be the defenders of the system Newt Gingrich famously said they hoped to see "wither on the vine." But in a July op-ed, Dr. Price reminded America's seniors why it is Republicans and not President Obama they should fear when it comes to Medicare:

Going down the path of more government will only compound the problem. While the stated goal remains noble, as a physician, I can attest that nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare.

Then there's Oklahoma Senator and unexpected Obama confidante Tom Coburn. As a Senate candidate in 2004, Dr. Coburn famously warned that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom." Upon his arrival in the Senate, the former obstetrician was elevated to the Judiciary Committee despite having advocated the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. More recently, Coburn the C Street marriage counselor to John Ensign and Mark Sanford turned Deather:

In an interview with KOTV, Coburn said that he disagreed with Obama's dismissal of fears that reform will "pull the plug on grandma."

Coburn said that he'd offered three amendments seeking an "absolute prohibition" on rationing care based on effectiveness research.

"Why would you not want an absolute prohibition? Because you ultimately plan to ration care," Coburn said. "Their plan is to control costs by limiting options."

Last but certainly not least is former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

As you'll recall, the young Frist was a frequent visitor to animal shelters where the future Doctor adopted stray cats only to dissect them later as part of his learn-at-home medical studies. In December 2004, the Tennessee Senator tried to defend a federally-funded abstinence program which claimed that HIV/AIDS could be contracted through tears and sweat. Pressed by ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, Frist was forced to recant. "It would be very hard," he said.

But it was during the 2005 Terri Schiavo affair in which Majority Leader Frist used a national platform to abuse his medical background for partisan political leverage. Rejecting a medical consensus (later confirmed during the autopsy) that Ms. Schiavo was blind and in a "persistent vegetative state," Dr. Frist offered a videotape diagnosis to the contrary on the floor of the Senate:

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

Despite those embarrassments and his close call in 2007 with an insider trading probe investigating his sale of stock from the HCA business started by his father and brother, Bill Frist is back on your television screen cheerleading Republican opposition to Democratic health insurance reform initiatives.

Even after President Obama's powerful speech last night, the outcome of the fierce health care debate is still far from certain. But one thing Americans can count in the political war over health reform is that the doctors of the Republican Party will do everything they can to kill it.

(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)

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