Lately, there has been a trend of people from outside the political sphere running for political office on both sides of the aisle. Chief among these outsiders are people working in the medical field, who seem to be taking to the Capitol by storm. Doctors, physicians, and other professionals who work inside and around medicine have set off on the campaign trail, ready to spread a message focused on issues related to the manifold problems of America’s healthcare industry.
The National Emergency Medical PAC recently put together a list of all of the medically-adjacent candidates running for office. This list totaled 30 candidates, and while not all of these candidates are likely to make it to Congress, we thought it prescient to investigate this phenomena and see what these medically-focused candidates are offering in the coming election cycle.
First, we decided to ask what brought these medical professionals to politics. For many, it was a desire to see the interests of the industry reflected on Capitol Hill.
“You have people making healthcare decisions who have never seen a patient,” Representative Brad Wenstrup said in an interview with FierceHealthcare. Wenstrup is a physician and Republican representative currently serving Ohio’s 2nd congressional district.
Additionally, many are motivated by seeing the failures of the US’ medical industry firsthand.
Referencing the idea that the ACA would cut costs and give people high-quality health insurance, numerous representatives stated that the ACA has proven to be ineffective.
As Republican representative Phil Roe stated to FierceHealthcare, “The ACA did not deliver on that promise.”
According to these representatives, the failure of the ACA is characterized by high insurance premiums paired with high deductibles. These two factors, argue some representatives, dissuade people from buying insurance; or, if they have insurance, it effectively renders their insurance meaningless in practice.
Republican representative Ralph Abraham is still an active practitioner in his home state of Louisiana, working several times a month pro bono in a rural clinic just a few miles from his home. Talking to FierceHealthcare, he says that he frequently sees patients who are technically insured, but lack the broad scope of insurance that would facilitate proper care.
“We can say they have insurance, but do they really?” Abraham asked in his FierceHealthcare interview.
While some seeking election and others defending their current positions on Capitol Hill suggest lifting restrictions on insurers, others take a different approach.
Glamour Magazine recently covered the campaign of Barbara Bollier, M.D. — an anesthesiologist and current Kansas state senator seeking a placement in the U.S. Senate.
A former Republican, Bollier joined the Democratic party in 2018 following her party’s refusal to support the expansion of Medicaid. The measure was supported by 80% of people in her state.
Her positions include mandating healthcare coverage, something she’s advocated for since her first year in office, alongside other measures like allowing for affordable contraceptives for uninsured women who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
“When women are making very difficult health care decisions, the last thing they want is a politician in between them and their doctor,” she explained to Glamour.
Bollier’s medical expertise came in handy during the first months of the pandemic. Taking to social media, she explained terms that were previously unfamiliar to Americans, such as ‘N95 masks’ and ‘ventilators.’ Detailing these things for the general public, she explains, was an extension of her work in healthcare.
“I became a doctor so I could help people and make their lives better and ultimately as an anesthesiologist give them an experience under surgery where they wouldn’t hurt,” Bollier told Glamour. “And I went into public service for the very same reason, and that is to take care of people and make their lives better.”
Bollier’s Democratic campaign notwithstanding, after examining the many candidates running for office with a history in the medical field, in this area, there seem to be more Republicans seeking and achieving political office than Democrats.
In fact, of the 17 physicians currently in office, 15 of them are Republican. Additionally, of the 30 candidates currently running for office compiled by National Emergency Medical PAC, only 9 are Democrats.
One can only theorize as to why this might be the case. However, regardless of their party affiliation, many are committed to doing whatever it takes to create movement in the medical field from their position in the Capitol.
In Bollier’s interview with Glamour, she makes multiple references to working across the aisle to find solutions to everyday problems. Additionally, Republican representative Phil Roe says that having someone in the healthcare field in office would be a boon to the country, no matter their party.
As he told FierceHealthcare, “[Medical professionals] have an incredible insight into how complex the healthcare system is.”