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Politico - House GOP Doctors Campaigning About Health Law

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By Jennifer Haberkorn

It's time to call in a doctor.

The House Republican physicians are fanning out across the country this month doing health-oriented campaign and fundraising events for Mitt Romney and other House members.

It's part of a Republican strategy that's been in place since the debate over the health law started: have the doctors talk about the problems in "Obamacare" and make the case for its repeal. It's playing out in this election cycle as physician-lawmakers travel around the country to co-host town halls with candidates, participate in fundraisers or visit with state medical groups.

"I can go out and talk with a community as diverse as you can imagine and [just] as politically charged, and say, "I'm not here as a Republican. I'm here as a doctor. And this is what I think will happen,'" said Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist.

Like other House physician-lawmakers, Roe has been traveling as a surrogate for both Romney and other House Republican members or candidates.

Their message varies depending on the audience, which ranges from medical societies filled with physicians -- who often want to talk about the details of the health law and whether physicians are going to continue to be paid under Medicare -- to general audiences that have questions about the law and the debate over which party is going to protect Medicare.

But the GOP's standard case against the law always comes through: "Obamacare" is going to put the government in between the doctor and patient and bankrupt the country. It needs to be repealed, they say, and replaced.

It's a message that Democrats, of course, would strongly refute. They say the law has been certified by the Congressional Budget Office as fully paid for and that it strengthens the private insurance industry. They also insist that Republicans aren't serious about "replacement."

Even though the law is already 2½ years old, it's still a significant issue in many House and Senate races, frequently popping up in stump speeches and on television ads.

Georgia Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, is one of the most prolific travelers in support of other Republicans.

"Republicans are fighting to protect the principles of health care -- accessibility, affordability, choices, innovation, quality and responsiveness," he said. Price said physician-lawmakers "are proud to support candidates who share these values, and we will campaign side by side with them to ensure they will join us in Washington."

Campaigning also gives House members a chance to prove that they can raise money, garner goodwill with other lawmakers or just spread their name.
But Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman and anesthesiologist, says he'd rather just make a difference in who is elected this fall.

"I'm not sure being known in Santa Barbara, [Calif.], is going to help me in Maryland," he said of a recent event he participated in with a Santa Barbara medical group. "Physicians are very wary of the president's health care reform, and in districts where the race is going to be close, we hope to make health care reform an issue."

While many of the House Republican doctors have been doing similar campaigning for at least two cycles now, this election in particular has provided doctors a chance to talk about two issues they feel passionate about: repeal of the health law and reform of Medicare.

"They've seen the harmful effects of government intervention in the doctor-patient relationship and can explain better than anyone the reason Obamacare needs to be repealed," said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "They're the best surrogates we have to talk about one of the single most important issues in this election."

In some instances, members say the NRCC has loosely coordinated campaigning. Other times, campaigns have reached out to the physicians directly.

The idea of politicians acting as surrogates for others isn't new. But many of the House Republican physicians are taking advantage of something most other politicians don't have: the inherent trust that many Americans hold for folks with a medical degree.

Texas Rep. Michael Burgess says that's part of his message when he's talking with medical societies in particular. He encourages them to become politically active. Even if they don't want to talk about politics in their offices -- for fear of looking overtly political -- he encourages them to talk about the health reform law in their communities.

"The reason it's important is people believe you," Burgess said he tells them, adding that many physicians are typically conservative. "You don't know the equity you hold in your hand."

Burgess said he has a trip planned through southern Illinois, where there are several open House seats, and is planning a trip to Kentucky and upstate New York.

"There are a lot of opportunities," he said. "Every member of the House is up for reelection."


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