Former Senate GOP leader Frist questions health care lawsuits

Dr. Bill Frist (R)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline)-Lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the new federal health care law are not likely to succeed, a former U.S. Senate Republican leader said.

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he is pleased that the Obama administration will be able to extend health care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, Nashville Public Radio reported Thursday.

The mammoth health care overhaul, signed into law last month, will expand insurance coverage to more than 32 million Americans, marking the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will require that most Americans have medical coverage by 2014 or face financial penalties. The controversial provision prompted a group of state attorneys general and two governors to challenge the law.

Frist outlined his support for an individual insurance mandate in a September 28 article in U.S. News and World Report.

"I believe in limited government and individual responsibility, cherish the freedom to choose, and generally oppose individual mandates-except where markets fail, individuals suffer, and society pays a hefty price," he wrote. "It is time for an individual health insurance mandate for a minimum level of health coverage."

Frist, a heart and lung transplant surgeon and the Senate majority leader from 2003 until his retirement in 2007, said there is a wariness about the nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul because of mistrust for bigger government.

The former two-term senator predicted that highly publicized efforts by a group of mostly Republican attorneys general and two governors to derail controversial elements of the health care law will likely fail.

"I don't think that's going to be successful," Frist was quoted Thursday by WPLN-FM as saying. "I do think a major repeal would not occur, but it does reflect the sentiment of the majority of the American people today; they may not want to repeal it, but they don't agree with this legislation."

Members of Frist's family in 1968 founded Hospital Corporation of America, the largest private operator of health care facilities in the nation. Frist sold all of his shares in the Nashville, Tenn.-based company in 2005.

The health care law also will require that businesses with more than 50 workers provide employees health coverage or pay a $2,000-a-worker penalty if any of their employees get government-subsidized plans on their own.

So far, 20 states are challenging the law. The multistate lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

The plaintiffs -- state attorneys general and two governors -- claim that the insurance mandate violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."

The states involved in the lawsuit are Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada and Arizona. The Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed an independent legal challenge to the law.

On Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer said he believes that the high court will eventually hear challenges to the health care law.

Appearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies, Breyer said the health care plan will likely be heard by the nine-member high court, just as most major federal legislation is reviewed by the justices.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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