Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist indicated Tuesday he disagrees with most of his fellow Republicans on repealing Obamacare, saying instead he liked the law and if he were still in Congress he would work to repair it.
"I like much of Obamacare because of the access issue," said Frist, speaking at the Permanente Executive Leadership Summit in Washington. "I'm not about throw it out and start over."
Frist, who was majority leader under former President George W. Bush, went even further in his remarks, saying that he not only believed Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid should continue to exist but that more states should expand the program, albeit with more flexibility. The comments differ sharply from Republicans currently in Congress, the majority of whom voted to scale back the Medicaid program.
Frist has not changed his position from when Obamacare was being debated, saying at the time he would have voted for it if he were still in Congress. He also is a partner in a firm that invests in the healthcare sector and his father co-founded Hospital Corporations of America, a for-profit system that benefited from the regulatory environment Obamacare created and for which his brother was chairman.
Obamacare, Frist continued, had many GOP principles and needed to be fixed. He blamed Republicans' unpreparedness and lack of support for their efforts to repeal or overhaul portions of Obamacare this year.
"Republicans need to figure out what they are actually for," he said. "By that I mean campaign promises and opposition is not a governing philosophy."
Republicans failed this year to pass several bills that would have repealed portions of Obamacare or overhauled it. The latest bill, Graham-Cassidy, met the same fate in September as others had during the summer, with all bills failing to gain enough support even among Republicans, who run both chambers and the White House.
Frist, who was a Republican senator from Tennessee, said Republicans also locked too many healthcare groups out of the conversation when they were writing their bills. Their legislation was also in trouble because of projections made about the bills' increases in uninsurance rates and premium rates, despite GOP promises and rhetoric to the contrary, he said.
"You need to build a constituency and listen to the physicians in the room," he said. "Every major doctor, payer and hospital group come out against the legislation."
Republicans should revisit healthcare for Obamacare fixes after a "cooling off period" for about eight months, he said, adding they first needed to discuss an Obamacare stabilization bill and should reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Plan, a government program that funds coverage for 9 million children and that expired Sept. 30.
Congress has been holding hearings on the program, which has bipartisan support, and states will not run out of funding for a few months.
"Hopefully, healthcare can become a bipartisan initiative on those smaller bills," Frist said.