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John Breaux and Bill Frist

Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on Medicare reform

By David T. Cook / November 24, 2003

Sens. John Breaux (D), of Louisiana, and Bill Frist (R), of Tennessee, were Friday's guests.

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Senator John Breaux graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and then from Louisiana State School of Law. In 1972, at the age of 28, he was elected to Congress, becoming its youngest member. He moved to the Senate in 1986, taking the seat vacated by Russell Long.

Bill Frist followed a less-direct path to the Senate. He is a graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy, Princeton University, and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Frist was senior fellow and chief resident at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Dr. Frist won election to the Senate in 1994, becoming the first doctor to serve there since 1928. He won reelection in 2000 by the widest margin in a statewide contest in Tennessee history.

Last year he was elected majority leader, having served fewer years in Congress than any previous majority leader in history.

Here are excerpts from their remarks:

On the importance of providing a prescription drug benefit:

(Frist) "The question of fiscal responsibility and healthcare security both have to be addressed... In the bill we addressed both ... the purpose, the goal, what is at the top is healthcare security for seniors ... your fundamental responsibility for those 40 million seniors and probably the ones who are coming up over the next several years is to inject prescription drugs because prescription drugs are the most important part of healthcare today - more important than the surgeon's knife, more important than the acute hospital bed, more important than the hospital. Today, unlike five years ago, unlike ten years ago, unlike 15 years ago. So the mission is healthcare security, therefore the response needs to be to have a benefit structure that responds... to provide that, your responsibility is do it in a way that is fiscally responsible..."

On criticism that the Medicare legislation should have more provisions aimed at improving the financial health of Medicare:

(Breaux) "One of the editorials you mentioned talked about why didn't we do the obvious things to restore financial stability. If someone told me what those obvious steps were we would do them right away. There are none.

The easiest choices are to increase taxes to help pay for it or to reduce the benefits for seniors. Try either one of those and you will see what kind of political headache we will inherit overnight...

Used properly, pharmaceuticals will keep people out of hospitals and make their hospital stay when they have to go a shorter period of time because of the proper use of prescription drugs which in many cases are not available today."

On testing market-based approaches to providing healthcare for seniors as a way to control costs:

(Frist) "The whole idea of innovating now with careful protection for people who are in the program itself is to see if the marketplace will work. If our model works and competition, true competition, comes to the table where individuals are empowered to consume, to make smart choices outside of price fixing, it may well be that we don't have to do anything in terms of raising taxes in the future.