Senate Majority Project

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In Case You Frist It

Sen. Frist's Votes Found to Favor HCA Interests

Over the weekend, The Nashville Tennessean published a comprehensive review of Bill Frist’s votes in Congress which found that
“An examination of Frist's voting record over his nearly 11 years in the Senate shows a pattern of supporting bills friendly to HCA and to hospitals in general. … He's also helped HCA in less obvious ways. Several years ago, the Tennessee Republican fought a Democratic-sponsored version of a "patients' bill of rights" that would have allowed patients to sue their HMOs and collect unlimited damages.”

Recently the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation of a sale of HCA stock Frist ordered from his “not so blind” blind trust. Frist claimed that he ordered the sale to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interests – this in his 11th year in the U.S. Senate. The sale happened to come at a time when the stock was at a high and immediately before it fell on information that would have been available to HCA insiders. In an investigation of the sale, it was revealed that the trust’s managers communicated frequently with Frist about the contents of his supposedly blind trust. In addition, while Frist claimed that he had no contact with his family on business issues, saying "I don't discuss it [HCA] with my brother at all because I want to keep absolute arm's length," Frist was a partner in a company called Bowling Avenue Partners with his brother, the chairman of HCA, which held at least $775,000 in HCA stock.

The Tennessean story outlines several examples of activity Frist took that benefited HCA including the following:
  • An HCA subsidiary would benefit from limits on jury awards. Health Care Indemnity Inc. is one of the country's largest providers of medical malpractice insurance, with gross premiums of $382.3 million a year.
  • Bills supported by Frist have given hospitals more money for treating seniors and curbed development of physician-owned specialty hospitals that compete with HCA.
  • Frist led the opposition on the floor to the "patients' bill of rights" that would have allowed patients to sue their HMOs.
  • Frist was a leading supporter of legislation that gave hospitals an extra $25 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments over 10 years, according to the American Hospital Association, which supported it. Last year, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for about 35% of HCA's total revenue.
  • Frist also supported an 18-month moratorium on new physician-owned specialty hospitals that would compete directly with full-service community hospitals such as those operated by HCA.