Congress’ only female doctor is poised to change the healthcare system

By | October 11, 2019

Before joining Congress last year, Democrat Kim Schrier spent two decades counseling anxious parents and caring for sick children in her pediatric practice in Issaquah, Washington.

Schrier, 51, took pride in becoming what she called a “de facto grandparent” — she would often be the parents’ first call when their baby was sick or wouldn’t sleep.

“One of the things I liked best about being a general pediatrician is the relationships I got to form with patients and their families,” Schrier told the Washington Examiner. “It’s a really unique specialty in medicine when you start taking care of kids when they’re first born.”

Since being sworn in and becoming the only female doctor in Congress, she has let the instincts she developed as a physician, as well as her own experience monitoring her type 1 diabetes since age 16, inform her work as a legislator.

She credits her success as a pediatrician to trying to meet parents on their level, whether they were worried about how to properly burp their baby or when to immunize their toddler. As a wife and mother of one, Schrier was able to offer advice to parents without sounding too clinical and distant. This helped her keep her practice’s immunization rates high, even during the 2014 measles outbreak and annual flu seasons.

“The way that I approached the measles epidemic was very much informed by 20 years of experience with anxious parents,” Schrier said. “I found that meeting patients where they are, talking about their fears, letting them express [those fears], giving them the evidence basis for what I suggest, that I immunize my child; I think a lot of those really went far and brought a lot of patients along.”

Schrier introduced a bill in May to boost parents’ confidence in vaccines, having become very familiar with the concerns parents have about the safety of giving young kids immunizations. She hopes to improve vaccination rates through public awareness campaigns, spearheaded by healthcare providers and experts from nonprofit health organizations rather than government officials.

“This needs to be done by real people. Maybe a parent with a child who was diagnosed with measles, a doctor who is now 70, 75 years old, and remembers people dying of measles,” she said.

The latest and ongoing measles outbreak has shown signs of slowing, with rates of increase much lower than they were even at the beginning of the summer. Flu season, though, is underway, and Schrier said mandating vaccines, as controversial as the policy is, might be “the way you have to handle an epidemic.”

Nevertheless, Schrier recognized that many people are uneasy about more government control over their medical care and favor a more moderate approach to healthcare reform. She supports a Medicare buy-in plan, often called a public option, rather than a “Medicare for all” plan that would scrap private insurance altogether — a proposal favored by many of her fellow Democrats.

“I understand that the Affordable Care Act has some big issues to solve. It has the issue of cost, it has the issue of accessibility, and it has the issue of still having plans with high deductibles,” Schrier said. “So I’ve proposed keeping the Affordable Care Act, and right now, we’re working on legislation that would cap premiums at no more than 8.5% of a family’s income, which would make a dramatic change.”

Ahead of 2020, Schrier said the Democrats are strong on healthcare and the most pressing issues with the healthcare system as it is, despite an apparent divide between those who support a moderate Medicare buy-in plan and those in support of government-financed healthcare.

On the other hand, she said, the GOP and President Trump in particular have shied away from discussing their healthcare reform plans “because [Trump] knows he’s not good on this issue nor is his party.”

With a degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, years of medical training, and almost two decades of advising anxious parents in Washington, Schrier said she’s uniquely qualified for her current position in the House of Representatives.

She said it took a lot to pull her away from her practice, but she wanted to help more than just her patients.

“A lot of this was really going to bat for my patients the way I’ve always gone to bat for my patients,” Schrier said. “And in this case, it was just on a larger scale. Who better to talk about this than a pediatrician with a preexisting condition?”