Republican doctors running for Congress amid ObamaCare rollout fiasco

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Eleven Republican doctors are running for the Senate, hoping that voters will see their medical expertise as an asset amid the administration’s botched rollout of ObamaCare. 

“Doctors are in a very unique position to look at the financing of healthcare,” Rep. Paul Broun, a family physician running for the GOP nomination for Georgia’s open Senate seat, told The Hill.

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“We go into medicine for one reason, and one reason only: Because we care about people, we want the people who we serve to have a productive, happy, healthy life,” he added. “That’s the kind of policymaker we should have in place in dealing with healthcare policy.”

Doctors running in Senate races from North Carolina to Oregon are all pitching voters on their experience in the medical field.

It’s not unusual for doctors to seek elected office. But it’s not necessarily typical for them to win, however. The Senate counts only three physicians in its ranks. Last year, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, a Democrat who ran largely on his record in medicine, lost to now-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). 

A 2012 Gallup survey rated medical doctors as the third most-trustworthy profession, below only nurses and pharmacists.

In contrast, members of Congress were second from the bottom, considered more trustworthy than only care salespeople.

That makes physician candidates well poised to hammer home a main Republican narrative that has emerged in recent weeks — that Democrats who pledged to Americans they could keep their insurance under ObamaCare are untrustworthy.

John McDonough, director of the Center for Public Health Leadership at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, said simply having an “MD” by a candidate’s name boosts their credibility. 

“A physician license is almost always a plus in the public's mind in terms of one's credibility,” he said. 

He noted that on the healthcare law, in particular, “people would probably listen more closely to an office holder or a candidate's position” if he or she is a physician or a nurse.

The physician candidates interviewed by The Hill touted personal skills they had acquired over years of medical practice.

Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon running for Senate in Oregon against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), said physicians’ problem-solving skills make them well suited for elected office.

“For doctors, instead of arguing about things, the whole goal is to find an answer,” she said. “We're trained to be logical thinkers, making our decisions based on evidence as opposed to ideologically, or based on emotion.”

Republican Annette Bosworth, an internist running for Senate in South Dakota, likened Congress to a team of doctors and nurses in an Intensive Care Unit, where communication among those caretakers is key to keeping a patient alive.

“The reason we are broken is the communication that should be happening on Capitol Hill isn’t. The country is in serious trouble because those leaders are stuck,” she said. “But what is the advanced skill of physicians? We’re master communicators. We’re always thinking, how can I navigate through this while still keeping my eye on the goal?”

Bosworth has an uphill battle for the Republican nomination against GOP establishment pick former Gov. Mike Rounds (R). 

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R), an OB-GYN running in Georgia’s open Senate race, said that doctors are looking to elected office because they’re worried about the consequences of the Affordable Care Act.

“A lot of doctors are so frightened by ObamaCare, and if it gets roots, and if it becomes eventually a single-payer system, that these doctors would no longer enjoy the practice of medicine. They don’t want to practice for the government, they want to practice for their patients,” he said.

Bosworth said she was alarmed by her interactions with government health programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, calling them“bureaucracy gone wrong.” 

“The most powerful thing I have to understand now is the rules of Medicaid and Medicare — not the rules of medicine,” she said.

She said her experience with those programs taught her that government has little place in healthcare.

The physician dynamic is playing out in particular in Georgia’s Senate race, where eight candidates are vying for the Republican nomination in a seat left open by Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ (R-Ga.) retirement, and one considered a pickup opportunity for Democrats.

Both Gingrey and Broun have have made their opposition to the health care law central to their campaigns. 

Gingrey’s campaign site reads in block letters across the front: “ObamaCare is bad medicine. Let’s send a doctor to the Senate.” He’s pledged he won’t run for a second term unless healthcare law is repealed in his first.

Broun broke with his party to oppose a recent Republican-backed bill that would allow insurance companies to keep offering current plans to customers under ObamaCare. He said it wasn't enough to fix the law — any Republican answer to the law must seek to dismantle it.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, a doctor and the GOP establishment pick to challenge vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), uses his medical background to speak out against the law. But Democrats have managed to somewhat diffuse that advantage by pointing out Cassidy backed a law similar to ObamaCare during his time in the Louisiana state Senate.

Democrats say they’re unfazed by the Republican doctors running for office.

“The Republican position, which is almost universally shared by GOP Senate candidates, is to allow insurance companies to go back to a time where they discriminated against patients. Polling shows that position is problematic,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky.

“I don't think it matters your profession, I think it matters your position on the issue. And the Republican position on the issue is not the right one.”