An election won't solve healthcare's biggest problem, says former Sen. Bill Frist

Former Republican senator for Tennessee Bill Frist, MD, offered his opinion on the biggest issue threatening healthcare today and elaborated on what the electorate wants from legislators going into the 2020 election.

Note: Responses were edited for style and content. 

Question: Healthcare is a tumultuous issue in the 2020 election. What do you view as the biggest problem in healthcare and what would you do to fix it?  

Dr. Bill Frist: The biggest challenge facing healthcare entities won't be an election issue, and it's not on the radar of healthcare consumers. It's the risk of cyberattack, and it extends well beyond stealing patient records or financial extortion. The potential is massive patient and clinical care disruption. Lagging behind financial and retail industries in implementing cyber defenses, the increasingly digital and connected healthcare sector is increasingly becoming a target of cyberattacks.

From shutting down intensive care room monitoring, interfering with pacemaker settings, to literally turning off the lights in the operating room, the risk is monumental. 

This past December, HHS issued voluntary cybersecurity guidelines for the healthcare sector to help reduce security risks. Each of us should thoughtfully and regularly address this constantly moving and ominously growing challenge. 

Q: Universal healthcare is a sticking point in the election. What are your thoughts on the matter, and what do you think legislators need to do on the issue? 

BF: Obamacare was about access — or universal care. That was yesterday. The issue today is cost and the inefficiencies and hassles that drive it up for the average person. Voters on both sides of the aisle consistently list as their top healthcare issue lowering the amount they pay out of pocket for healthcare. They are demanding solutions that reduce the pocketbook squeeze.  

These cost and access issues are the most popular topics on my new podcast, which views healthcare challenges at the intersection of medicine, policy and innovation: "A Second Opinion: Rethinking American Health with Senator Bill Frist, M.D.," (available on iTunes or wherever you access your podcast content).  

The words "Medicare for All" are now deeply embedded in the political narrative for 2020, though the expression means different things to different people. For example, Bernie Sanders' plan creates a totally government-administered, single-payer system eliminating all private health insurance (the most expensive of the proposals to the government), while Joe Biden recently announced a "Medicare for All-LITE" approach that would create an optional Medicare buy-in on the ACA exchanges. Experienced policymakers [believe] the Sanders approach will never make it through the legislative process. Legislators will concentrate on what the voters want today: affordability and convenience.

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