Congress’ First Pediatrician Settles Into New Job

  • Who: Kim Schrier
  • Profession: Physician MD
  • Specialty: Pediatrics
  • Current Practices at: U.S. House of Representatives
  • Location: Washington, DC
  • State: Washington

Kim Schrier, MD, the first pediatrician elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, describes her decision to seek a seat in Congress as a natural extension of her work caring for children.

Following the 2016 election, she said she became concerned about what she saw as rising threats to the health of families. The Republican congressional majority made several attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act. In an interview with Pediatric News, Dr. Schrier, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 8th district, said she worried about a rollback of the insurance protections the 2010 law created for people with preexisting conditions. She understood the need for these guarantees of access to care both as a physician and as a patient – Dr. Schrier was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a teenager.

Her concerns extended beyond the health care and insurance. Efforts to weaken environmental protections could create new risks for children’s health, she said. Dr. Schrier also worried about attempts to erode Roe v. Wade and to reduce funding for programs such as SNAP supplemental food assistance.

“I felt like every one of those elements was under assault and so who better to speak to that than the pediatrician with her own preexisting condition?” she said.

Dr. Schrier currently is the only female physician serving in Congress. “It’s exciting to be here and it’s exciting to bring that lens that no one else really has,” she said.

“I’ve left a practice that I love. I had no intention to run for office ever in my life.”

Dr. Schrier earned an undergraduate degree in astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley. She worked for about a year at the Environmental Protection Agency before earning her medical degree at the University of California, Davis, and completing her residency at Stanford (Calif.) University. She was working as a pediatrician in the Seattle-based Virginia Mason Health System when she decided to run for Congress.

“I go back and forth every week. I just didn’t see it working all that well with having them here,” she said. “I work from 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night and would never see them anyway.”

Dr. Schrier has long used an insulin pump and glucose monitors to keep her diabetes in check.

“It is a bit more difficult because my days are less predictable” when working in the Capitol, she said. “So I carry granola bars around in my purse.”

Bipartisan bill

Dr. Schrier said she is taking her time in deciding on the first health care legislation that she will introduce in the House. She’s considering measures that would focus on children’s health, possibly in connection with nutrition or with protection of those in immigrant communities.

“I’m looking at something that is uniquely me and know that a lot of my colleagues are going to be working on things like affordability of medications and I will partner with them,” she said.

Dr. Schrier said that she supports creating a way for people to buy into Medicare coverage, paying for this government insurance on a sliding scale. The American public is getting more comfortable with the idea of expanding access to Medicare, which “is incredibly popular but now exclusively available for seniors and other selected groups,” she said.

In her view, an expanded Medicare would stand among private insurance options, allowing for a gradual change.

“It’s a way that we could start tomorrow to let people buy in, as opposed to having a 5- or 10-year rollout that something as big and daunting as a Medicare-for-all plan would require,” she said.

But Dr. Schrier said she won’t start her legislative career with such a sweeping goal as a Medicare buy-in bill.

“I think it would be jumping the gun to come in right away with my own health plan because I really want to collaborate” with fellow lawmakers, she said.

Winning Republican support for her future legislation also is important to Dr. Schrier. “I want to make sure that I have the support of a lot of my colleagues,” she said. “I would like to see a successful first bill.

“The advantage of coming at this as a pediatrician and taking on a first bill or bills that relate to children is that both sides of the aisle can get behind what is good for families and children,” Dr. Schrier said. “I think that’s hard to really argue with.”

Dr. Schrier cosponsored her first piece of legislation in February, reaching across the aisle to work with Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) to introduce H.R. 1048, a bill to authorize the next phase of a water resource management plan for Washington’s Yakima River basin.

Within her party, Dr. Schrier is allied with the moderate New Democrat Coalition. Also in the coalition are two fellow physicians, Ami Bera, MD, and Raul Ruiz, MD, both from California. The New Democrat Coalition also has several lawmakers who flipped House seats from Republican control to Democratic in the 2018 election, a group that includes Dr. Schrier and Reps. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). It was the victories of these moderates that gave the Democrats control of the House. Yet, they get far less media attention than do House Democratic freshmen who are politically further to the left. These members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), tend to hail from districts where Republicans stand little chance of winning.

Dr. Schrier said the Democratic party, and Congress as a whole, should focus on issues such as affordable health care, on which the country can unite.

“If you’re looking for collaboration, that just doesn’t make the headlines and yet it is the absolute best thing for the country,” she said, adding that most Americans have more centrist views. “So we should really be governing to the middle and that’s how we can move our country forward.”