Last week I joined my longtime friend, Emmy-award winning television host Larry King to talk COVID, the 2020 Presidential election, and my pandemic prediction from 15 years ago. Our interview aired on his show, PoliticKING, which you can find on Hulu and Ora TV. New episodes air every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30pm ET.
Thanks to Larry and his team for letting me share our interview with our listeners.
Bill Frist: And in 2005 I gave about 30 speeches around the country predicting a pandemic coming out of Asia sometime in 10 to 15 years. And I did that and put a plan on the table at that point in time because it’s inevitable and even today, 15 years from now, we’re going to have another pandemic equal to the size of this one unless we act. You’re listening to A Second Opinion. Your trusted source engaging at the intersection of policy, medicine, and innovation, and rethinking American health. This week I joined my long time friend Emmy award winning television host, Larry King to discuss COVID, the 2020 presidential election, and my pandemic prediction from 15 years ago.
Bill Frist: I was first on Larry King Live 32 years ago as a doctor, the topic then heart transplantation and the need for organ donors. This week’s interview aired on his show Politicking, which you can find on Hulu and Ora TV, new episodes air every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 PM Eastern. Thanks to Larry and his team for allowing me to share our interview with our listeners. I’m your host to Senator Bill Frist. Welcome to A Second Opinion.
Larry King: 2005 Senator Bill Frist proposed a six part pandemic preparedness plan for the US government. He was instrumental in helping to pass president George W. Bush’s, $80 billion package to combat AIDS in Africa. And he’s now one of 16 leading health experts calling on Congress to fund billions of dollars in COVID-19 testing before it can safely reopen the country for business. He’s former United States Senate majority leader of Republican from Tennessee and hosted the podcast A Second Opinion, Rethinking American Health. Bill Frist joins us from his heart farm in Virginia. God, is good to see you again.
Bill Frist: Good Larry, great to be with you. I appreciate the chance to have this conversation.
Larry King: My pleasure. Tell me about this letter you and 16 other health expert, what do you want the government to do?
Bill Frist: Well, Larry, the letter went out last Monday, went to the president of the United States and to the United States Congress and it basically has three parts, all of which Senator on the really critical failure that this country has had in the last month, but also the opportunity that it’s all built to the ground testing. We had this enemy, the COVID virus, but right now [inaudible] don’t know who’s has it and who doesn’t. Also, it does infect people even if they [inaudible] symptoms and so what this letter does, it basically says testing, testing, testing, that the federal government, through our Congress, and leadership of the president should step forward, make it the number one priority and it puts potential contact tracings. If you test positive, if you’ve been in touch with eight, or nine, or 10 other people, somebody needs to pick up the phone or identify them through technology to keep them isolated to stop the spread of this virus.
Larry King: Is it too soon to reopen the economy now?
Bill Frist: Larry, I don’t think so and I spend a lot of time with our mayor in Nashville, with our governor in Tennessee State that is on track to open in fact next week, and I think there’s a balance. We were moving today from this global mitigation where you shut everything down and we’re making that transition to that individual containment, that local containment, and it’s not a matter of looking at public health and lives saved versus opening the economy. That’s the false choice. The real choice is how do we open this economy with what we call affordable containment. And that is to like an accordion begin to go out, open it up, and if the virus is unleased at all to close it back down.
Bill Frist: And the time is right to do it now because people … now we’re about six weeks into hunkering down without jobs. People thrust into poverty, people losing their mortgages, and there’s a very real cost in terms of death, in terms of quality of life, in terms of morbidity, of having people without jobs, with unemployment going to high as 30% higher than in any time since the great depression. So now is the time to begin based on science, careful attention to analytics and data because if the virus raises a tad, we are, like I said, an accordion going to slow things back down. But now is the time to begin now, not for everywhere. So in some places the virus is still increasing. It needs to be measured in the viruses increasing. They should not open, they should stay shut down.
Larry King: Did you see this coming?
Bill Frist: Yes. Sadly you and I have talks really for 30 years and before coming to the Senate I was in medicine and did heart transplant. So every week, and the enemy there was the virus. The virus is smarter than us. It moves faster than us and the enemy there, because I do a transplant, I would give my patients medicines to push the immune system down and the viruses would attack. So for the last really 35 years I’ve been fighting viruses, I went to the Senate and we took on the HIV/AIDS virus and in a bipartisan way, three million people dying every year. We went after it aggressively again, bipartisan addressed it and now 20 million people are alive. So we can beat these viruses.
Bill Frist: After we did that in 2003, and I worked at that time with president Bush, I worked with the leadership on the other side of the aisle, I worked with Tony Fauci like we are today. We started looking at pandemics and in 2005 and in your opening, you mentioned it, I gave about 30 speeches around the country predicting a pandemic coming out of Asia sometime in 10 to 15 years. And I did that and put a plan on the table at that point in time because it’s inevitable and even today, 15 years from now, we’re going to have another pandemic equal to the size of this one unless we act and the things that we can do. So I’m very hopeful we didn’t act last time, the last 15 years. Now is the time to act and have our federal government come together with the very best science so we can preempt these pandemics of the future.
Larry King: More with Bill Frist, right after this. And frankly, Bill, how are we doing? How’s the federal government doing?
Bill Frist: Well, I’m really encouraged in certain ways and then discouraged we were late on the starting block and if we’d had our global surveillance intact, if we had listened 15 years ago to the proposals that I and others put on the table, we would have been able to identify this virus earlier. The doubling time of this virus was just three days. And so if you have 100 cases out there today, in three days it’ll be 200 and it just grows exponentially over time. So number one, I think the president has done very well. And the first point I always mentioned in my original plan from 2005 was communication. And the president, every day has been out there talking and now we’ll come to the negatives, but I think that’s very positive.
Bill Frist: Number two, I think having the experts up there, people like Tony Fauci who has been at it for 30 years, he’s been the head of the National Institute of Allergy since 1984 and he’s done a great job, Dr. Birx. So I applaud the president having them up on the stage. The negative side of it I think is we’ve seen it recently with these hypothetical, those are put out there. The conference has gone way too long. People are suffering and they are scared, and they are anxious, and their lives are at stake, and they don’t need anybody on that stage putting hypothetical things out there that have not been proven and sometimes dangerous thing. And also the communication has been a little too long our biggest failure, that’s the president.
Bill Frist: Our biggest failure has been this lack of testing, the lack of emphasis on testing. The enemy is out there, we know it, it grows exponentially. If we don’t slow down, we know what slows it down. We know we can’t tolerate a total shutdown of this country for a year until we have a vaccine and so what we need to do is test, test, test down at who has it, who does not, the people who have it, do this contact tracing, quarantine them, and then we will beat this virus.
Larry King: Mitch McConnell, who now holds a post you once held, Senator majority leader, probably stated his reluctance for economically packages going directly to the States. You agree with that?
Bill Frist: Well, I heard him say it and I heard the press present it, but I haven’t talked to him about it. I do think the States are going to need direct help, unlike the federal government and we’ve spent two trillion dollars in the initial bill three weeks ago, another half a trillion dollars last week and we’ll probably, I think spend another trillion dollars. I think as we do this, it’s not stimulus money because the economy can’t be stimulated because it’s not open today.
Larry King: Why did you leave the Senate?
Bill Frist: Larry, if you’ll recall, when I came into the Senate, I spent 20 years in medicine, and health, and healing and doing the heart transplant and I came to serve 12 years [inaudible] does have some legislate doors. So coming in I basically said, “I’m going to stay for 12 years. I’m going to do my best to represent the people of Tennessee.” I didn’t know, I ended up a majority leader at the time, but represent the people of this country. And then after that 12 years, go back home and live under the laws that I passed or helped to pass and then work as a private citizen and do the things we’re doing now and trying to help policy makers of the future. I love that. I love the opportunity to serve and appreciated that and it’s such a great noble profession, but I didn’t want to do it forever.
Larry King: Do you miss it?
Bill Frist: I miss it, but I’ve been able to do some extraordinary things because of it. When I was there as majority leader, it was a lot of politics, it was a lot of taking care of and working with 99 other United States senators. And since I’ve left, I’ve been able to help start companies that address things like hospice, and end of life, and palliative health care, and companies built around telemedicine and telehealth. And so if I had still stayed in the United States Senate, I would have loved it, I’m sure, but it wouldn’t be the opportunity to contribute in ways that regular citizens and business people and philanthropists do.
Larry King: As an aside, you serve with Joe Biden, did you not?
Bill Frist: I did. We were on the Foreign Relations Committee. I was majority of the leader during the time that he chaired that committee.
Larry King: What do you think of him and what do you think of his chances?
Bill Frist: Joe had gave an A plus too. I do know him very well. I know his wife very well. I actually traveled with his wife to Africa and she wanted to learn more about Africa when he was vice president. I have huge respect for his intellect and so I have a great respect. I’m from the opposite party as you well know, but Joe would do well as a president. It’ll be interesting to see the election and as we all know, elections in large part are determined by the economy. And if you look over the last 110 years of the 10 times that we have not had a recession, the president who is up for a reelection would be reelected. And of the bad times in the last 110 years, if there’s been a recession four of those five, that president has lost reelection.
Bill Frist: So it looks like we’re going to be in a recession. We are going to be in a recession during this period of time and unemployment is going to higher than it’s been since the great depression because of this pandemic. So I think it’ll be a tough, at least based on the history or for president Trump to be reelected and there’s a good candidate across the aisle. So I would say 50-50 at this point, but if you look back at history, you would say that president Trump has an uphill battle.
Larry King: We’ll take a break and come right back with former Senator Bill Frist. We’ll talk about his podcast right after this. Welcome back to Politicking. We’re talking with Bill Frist, former us Senate majority leader host of the podcast, A Second Opinion, Rethinking American Health. Tell me about your podcast. When are you on, how does it work?
Bill Frist: The podcast is really interesting, Larry, and it’s really in the field that you’re in, but it was clear to me after I left the United States Senate that people are getting their information in different ways. I’ve been on the speaking circuit talking healthcare, and hope, and the healing, and transplants, and the [inaudible] children. And then about a year ago started a podcast, which is on every week. It’s called A Second Opinion with Bill Frist. You can get it wherever people get their podcast. And we spend 30 to 45 minutes once a week for the last year and we will over the next year talking to people with a very specific interest. And the interest is at the intersection of health, and healing, and medicine, all the things that we talked about today in terms of health and healing. And with that intersection with policy issues and how policy can address them.
Bill Frist: And the third big component is innovation. So we look at the innovative thought, creative thought, our entrepreneurs, people starting businesses. And so something like the pandemic, which we’re talking a lot about, we’ll bring policymakers in like Lamar Alexander, we’ll bring in Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC or Jeff Copeland, former head of the CDC. And then we’ll be talking to the health specialist and the scientist like Marty Makary from Johns Hopkins who you see a lot on the COVID virus, or Toby Cosgrove who ran the Cleveland clinic. And then we bring in innovators, the people who are making vaccines and look looking to make those antiviral agents. So it’s on every week asecondopinionpodcasts.com, you can go there and look at it as well.
Larry King: A few more questions. What do you think of Obama’s Affordable Care Act?
Bill Frist: Well, it was really interesting because when he was campaigning, he was campaigning on the cost of healthcare and because that’s what really people care about and cared about at the time. And then once he got into office, he switched to the excess. [inaudible] a huge issue in this country that have 25% of people don’t have care. Maybe 30 million people, 12-15% don’t have care today. They get the care, but they didn’t have the insurance, but people care about cost. The Affordable Care Act is an access bill, cover more people, did not address costs. Some people say it did a little bit, but it really didn’t. So it did a pretty good job, I think, and the uninsured went from 30 million down to about 15 million people, but it cost, as you know, a lot of money and everybody’s prices that they had to pay for it. Health care went up to give the 15 million people affordable access to insurance.
Bill Frist: It’s good in that part, the fact that did not address cost at all. Coupled with the fact that it was passed in a partisan way and there was no piece of legislation of social legislation during my time as majority leader or when I was in the United States Senate that was passed in a partisan way without any Democrat votes. So you put those two things together is why it is in the big picture has failed. But there’s some really good things in there for vulnerable populations who have access today that they did not have before.
Larry King: Do you miss doing medicine?
Bill Frist: Now you’re getting close to my heart. The first time [inaudible] it was about ’87 and at that time I never thought about going into politics and the show that you did was on heart transplantation and the shortage of organ donors. And that little two-year-old boy we talked about is now 32 years old and doing well through this miracle of transplantation. So yes, I miss the opportunity to be able to be a vehicle to bring life very directly to individuals. I won’t go back to it. I continued doing medical mission work for now 20 years after that and I’m not operating now, but have huge respect to those people on the front line today. They were doing lifesaving work so that you and I can sit here and have this conversation.
Larry King: You’re such a great guest. Will you come back soon? I mean you are great guest to-
Bill Frist: I’d love to.
Larry King: One was okay but, but now you’re a great call of my all time favorites. One of the thing I want to ask, there are people who was thinking that a lot of people may have heart problems and other things are afraid to go to the hospital because of the pandemic, what do you say to them?
Bill Frist: First of all, you’re right. Remember for the last five weeks the hospitals have essentially been closed down except for emergencies. No elective procedures, doctor’s appointments, not canceled or canceled, people not even seeing their doctors, except through telemedicine, which has been very good. What that means is that people because they don’t want to get sick and part or staying home with chest pain and they’re having little [inaudible] to call [PIs] and not being treated. And are having heart disease, maybe even heart attacks at home. So what I do want to say is that hospitals are back online in Tennessee elective surgery began this week and people can come to hospitals. They are safe places to come to.
Bill Frist: Now, unlike two or three weeks ago, there’s enough of the protective equipment. You’ll go to isolated wards, you’ll go to isolated doors, so you’ll be very safe in going back to these hospitals today. And I encourage you to do so because the doctors are there to give them preventative care, and the nurses, and the ancillary personnel. And just because we have this virus, it doesn’t mean people stop having a heart attacks, and asthma, and respiratory disease and so they do need to get treated.
Larry King: Very important. Thank you Bill, I’ll see you again real soon.
Bill Frist: Thank you, Larry. Thank you again to Larry King and be sure to tune into his show Politicking, which brings you deep inside the political arena every week. And thank you for tuning into this special broadcast of A Second Opinion. This episode of A Second Opinion was produced by Todd Schlosser, the Motus Creative Group and Snapshot Interactive. You can subscribe to A Second Opinion on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you are listening right now. You can also watch our interviews on YouTube and on our website and be sure to rate and review A Second Opinion so we can continue to bring you great content. You can get more information about the show, it’s guests, and sponsors at asecondopinionpodcast.com. That’s asecondopinion.podcast.com. A Second Opinion broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee, the nation’s Silicon Valley of health services, where we engage at the intersection of policy, medicine, and innovation.