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Medicare for All is popular among Democrats. But this doctor may be the only candidate who gets it.

There are a dozen doctors in Congress and none support single payer. Rob Davidson, who's running for MI-02, could change that. 

Photo: Rob Davidson for Congress/ Edit: Diana Ofosu
Photo: Rob Davidson for Congress/ Edit: Diana Ofosu

There are more than a dozen doctors in Congress and none support Medicare for All. Rob Davidson, an emergency physician running for Michigan’s 2nd congressional district, could change that. 

Davidson’s full-throated support of a national government-run health care system not only deeply contrasts his opponent’s position — Republican incumbent Rep. Bill Huizenga doesn’t believe health care is a right — but also those of current doctor-legislators on Capitol Hill. The only Democratic doctors in Congress, Reps. Ami Bera (CA) and Raul Ruiz (CA), don’t support single-payer — with Bera expressing hesitance because he doesn’t want to upend the status quo. Republican doctor Sen. Bill Cassidy (LA) has gone further, positioning his bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the only alternative to single payer, a strange perspective given that his bill would leave millions more uninsured.

But Davidson — a candidate who’s not taking any corporate donations and garnered Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) endorsement — credits his experience as an ER doctor for shaping his support for Medicare for All, and for his decision to back legislation to that end in the House.

“The biggest problem I see with our current system pre- and post- ACA is cost,” Davidson told ThinkProgress by phone.

Credit: 
Rob Davidson for Congress
Credit: Rob Davidson for Congress

“A guy on chemo I saw recently came in about three times in about five weeks with nausea and vomiting. And the third time he had to be admitted because his electrolytes were all off and I said, ‘why did you wait so long?’ And he said, ‘well it’s 250 bucks every time I come in,’ and you know, it’s not insignificant.”

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Davidson cited several examples like this — sometimes referring to his patients by first name — as reasons for why he advocates for single payer. Many of his patients face high copays and deductibles, deterring them from using their insurance. A key part of Davidson’s platform is to address the country’s underinsurance problem — an issue that went unresolved under the ACA and that could be exacerbated by Republicans, who push for catastrophic plans and short-term “junk” insurance.

“I just met a young man at an event Sunday whose sister died when she was 26 years old, 10 years ago. She didn’t have insurance and she was having pleuritic chest pain one day… and was going to wait the next day to see a doctor because she didn’t want to pay for an ER bill. And she didn’t wake up. She died of a pulmonary embolism,” he said.

“I just see those kinds of decisions people make every single day and it’s impossible for me to not think, if we just got the profit piece out of the payment side of health care, we would go a long way to eliminating that piece of the decision — ‘can I afford it?'”

Running on M4A in a district that went for Trump

The ER doctor is trying to win over a district that leans red but includes “pivot counties,” or areas that voted for Donald Trump in 2016, after voting for Barack Obama in the previous two presidential elections. The GOP has represented MI-02 for decades, with Huizenga being the latest Republican to do so since 2010. FiveThirtyEight projects Davidson has a 1 in 20 chance of winning.

The district’s history makes running on Medicare for All appear risky. But Davidson doesn’t seem to think so.

“We’re finding… at the doors — we’ve knocked on over 35,000 doors — is that those folks who call themselves Independents and even soft Republicans, the message of universal health care and specifically Medicare for All moves those people,” he said. “People are in agreement because people look at these plans — not as a Republican, as a Democrat — what they really look at is, ‘I do have huge deductibles. My premiums do go up.'”

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“So I do [support Medicare for All]. Whether it’s smart or not isn’t secondary because I wanna win, but really, it’s truly what I believe — in my experience and from my experience in medicine is what I believe will be the best solution for the cost crisis,” he added.

Davidson cited a recent Reuters–Ipsos survey that found 70 percent of U.S. residents support a single-payer health care system where premiums and out-of-pocket costs are eliminated — including 52 percent of Republicans. Davidson seeks to implement what’s popular, unlike Huizenga who voted for the GOP Obamacare repeal, one of the least popular bills in nearly three decades.

The kind of advocate single payer needs in Congress

The doctors currently in Congress are not only anti-Medicare for All, but sometimes even espouse scientifically dubious statements. For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R), who is an ophthalmologist by training, has professed baseless anti-vaccine claims. Dave Levitan wrote for Splinter that the politicization of doctor-legislators might lie in the medical specialty in which these lawmakers practiced. They all, with a few exceptions, come from higher-paying specialties. This could perhaps explain their opposition to single payer too.

Davidson specializes in emergency medicine, a comparatively middling salary. And he challenges conventional wisdom as an ER doctor for a rural hospital who supports single payer, while interest groups representing this very demographic have already formed a lobbying group against it. The American Medical Association (AMA) is resistant because the group represents the interests — which is usually defined by profits — of doctors.

Medicare for All could cost doctors, Davidson said. He wasn’t referring to doctor pay, pointing out that providers who rely on less generous insurance like Medicaid would actually see reimbursement rates go up. Rather, he meant that top earners, including a lot of doctors, could feel a pinch with new taxes. But also it wasn’t too long ago that the AMA opposed Medicare, warning Americans about the risks of socialized medicine with “Operation Coffee Cup.

Now, the AMA will fight tooth and nail to maintain Medicare and to continue funding for Medicare,” he added.

“I do think that professional societies are going to have a very narrow focus… They don’t like change or they don’t like dramatic changes. They like very, very safe easy incremental change that they can predict,” he added

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“I think the more positive impact of less hoops to jump through, not having 40 different formularies to deal with and figuring out what drugs your patient can be on for the various medical conditions that then change every year…. all of that I think is for sure going to improve and the quality of practicing medicine will get better,” he said of single payer.

Credit: 
Rob Davidson for Congress
Credit: Rob Davidson for Congress

The pendulum will swing, he contends. Young doctors support universal health care. Indeed, a student caucus of the AMA successfully got the AMA to at least study single payer as a possibility.

And when it does, he hopes to be in Washington D.C., advocating to keep dental coverage as a Medicare for All benefit. (He said lawmakers on the Hill don’t talk about dental care enough.) He thinks the Hyde amendment, which blocks federal dollars from paying for abortion services, is the “law of the land” and so it’s unlikely he’ll push for abortion coverage in Medicare for All — another potential obstacle for Democrats as they eye health care’s future.

I support a public option. I support bolstering the ACA,” Davidson told ThinkProgress. “I just think, then, we got to push to the ideal — to me, the ideal is Medicare for All and I will fight for that.”