It is not without irony that I note Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R—Tennessee) apparently sold all his stock in the company his father founded based on insider information—for what other reason could there be for reversing his long-held position in HCA Inc. when, surprise, the company announced a large decline in patient admissions—on the same day that Martha Stewart, fresh from her insider-trading conviction, took her place alongside The Donald on The Apprentice. Oh, the times we live in. What wonders! And one must wonder if the Bush Justice Department will pursue this oddly timed stock sale as vigorously as it did Martha’s?
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has maintained for years that his stock holdings in the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain posed no conflict of interest for a policymaker deeply involved in health care matters. He even received two rulings in the 1990s from the Senate ethics committee that blessed the holding of the stock in blind trusts.
So when Frist decided in June to dump all the stock, and later cited as the reason his desire to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, eyebrows went up among ethics experts and congressional watchdogs. Why did he do it at that time?
Precisely a month later, after the stock was sold, its price tumbled 9 percent when executives in the company — HCA Inc., which was founded by Frist’s father and on whose board Frist’s brother serves — disclosed that hospital admissions of insured patients were lower than expected, depressing profits in the second quarter.
The Frist revelation is bookended by this commentary on how remarkably Martha Stewart has integrated her prison story into the brand that is Martha. (Her claim she has “no idea” what she was convicted of on Letterman is farcical, but pretty much the SOP for life in these times.) My head spins when it tries to hold these contrasting calumnies in context.