March 16th, 2010
06:58 PM ET
10 years ago

Paging Dr. Christensen: Where are the Dem docs?

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Democratic Del. Donna Christensen practiced medicine for 20 years before being elected to Congress."]
Washington (CNN) – When you walk into Del. Donna Christensen's Capitol Hill office, it's hard to miss proof of her medical expertise.

Christensen is the only female doctor in Congress. Her medical degree, professional licenses, board certification, awards and family physician's creed occupy an entire wall next to her desk. She practiced medicine for 20 years before she was elected to Congress in 1996.

A non-voting delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, Christensen sits on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and on its Health Subcommittee. She also is the point person for the Congressional Black Caucus's efforts on health care.

But while Republican doctors-turned lawmakers have been all over the airwaves with their opposition to health care reform, Christensen has been largely absent from her party's efforts to explain its ambitious legislation.

Related: GOP Senate doctors on health care road show

She sat down Tuesday for an interview with CNN. "Up to the other day, I was saying to somebody in leadership, 'We need to be out there. We haven't had a message. We need to be out there talking about our bill.'"

The response? Until there's a bill, we can't have a message, Christensen says she was told.

And when the White House held a daylong, televised, bipartisan health care summit last month, three Republican lawmakers with MDs had seats in the room.

Related: Boehner lines up GOP docs to fact check health care summit

On the Democratic side, Christensen didn't make the cut. "They didn't choose to take me," Christensen said of her absence. "I didn't know beforehand but one or two people suggested that I be there. But, they didn't see fit to have me there."

Undaunted, Christensen still tried to get close to Blair House, where the summit was held. She was joined by Rep. Lynn Woolsey and Rep. Barbara Lee, both California Democrats.

"We went because we had a particular message which we didn't feel was going to be a part of the discussion," Christensen said. "We had three documents with us that we wanted to hand to everybody as they were going in."

But, she added, they were not allowed close enough to achieve their aim.

Asked about the fact that Christensen was not at the summit, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there were only four discretionary spots available for House Democrats. The speaker "really values Ms. Christensen because she is a doctor," said Brendan Daly, Pelosi's communications director.

For her part, Christensen says her party was caught by surprise during the congressional recess last August, when public rage over health care reform boiled over.

"We weren't prepared for what happened. We didn't see that organized opposition coming at us. And I think we should have, you know?"

And, in retrospect, the Democratic lawmaker also said her party could have done a better job delivering its message.

"We don't put in the time that the other party does on creating a clear, catchy message that sticks," she said.

As Democrats appear on the verge of an endgame after a year of wrangling, Christensen hopes things turn around.

"The plan is to have a bill, and once we have the bill we'll have a clear message about what the bill is and I think the message is getting clearer. We're saying the same thing over and over and over again so it's probably getting through. I think [senior citizens] are a big group that we really need to get to."

Follow Martina Stewart on Twitter: @MMStewartCNN

Filed under: Democrats • Health care • House • Popular Posts
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Victim of GOP Taliban

    Because the Republicans are a party run by wealthy elitists. Not many Democrats make over $200K per year.

    March 16, 2010 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  2. T'SAH from Virginia

    I was wondering myself – WHERE IS OUR VOICE?????

    I recently joined the Coffee Party just to get my sanity back. I thought the WHOLE WORLD thought like the Far-Right and the Tea Partiers!!!

    There is a movement growing and all 167,000, thus far, Coffee Partiers are coming alive!! We are brewing a movement that is building – in a CIVIL way – and we will be heard and make a difference!!

    The Democrats on the HILL should worry about getting reelected!!! And it is NOT because of the RepubliCAN'Ts!! We – as the people – would surely elect someone else who is willing to STAND UP for those who elected them. We will RAKE OUT the no-voters and back-stabbers in regards to this Health Care and other issues!!! YES WE CAN!!!

    March 16, 2010 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  3. Get real!

    The Democrats will have a message after the bill is passed?? Isn't that like locking the barn door after the horse is already out?!? Am I missing something here? I don't think the Democrats HAVE a message, that's why they aren't putting one out there!! If they are having this much difficulty getting 216 votes in the house and they have to rely on 51 votes in the Senate then they need to consider doing it again and voting on the 80% they say both parties agree on. How about THAT message Congress!!!

    March 16, 2010 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  4. Ed FL

    This is a laugher. Why would any[ DOCTOR MD] if he is halfway competent give up a Million /millionand a half a year for a job as a politician for $170,000 plus his free medical benefits[that they do not want the general public to have]. When listening to these losers REP or DEM it makes me laugh.They all seem to have been in practice for 20 yrs and now sic want to give up big paying incomes to go to Washington to save the country. They come off as a lazy incompetent group looking for a free lunch because they do not have the competency to compete in the real world. The public should be pleased that this group has found its true level of professional work and that is with their big mouths.

    March 16, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  5. m smith

    I would hope that people listen to whats in the bill. It would be a shame to have it voted out by the party of no. Because it would not get picked up again . They don't want to see any bill pass that might take money out of the insurance company pockets. The middle class is sinking fast. And they don't care. Either you have or you don't and thats exactly what they want.

    March 16, 2010 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  6. Willy Brown

    Obamacare must STOP!

    March 16, 2010 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  7. indy

    If they can't think to bring the doctor to the summit, how bright can they really be? Of course if your plan is to pass the bill without anyone having to put their name to a vote, how honest and smart can they really be?

    March 16, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  8. MVDCT

    Doctors aren't stupid, they know this bill does nothing to shield them from junk lawsuits. The Democrats care more about trial lawyers than they do doctors. If this bill passes, many doctors will change professions – they won't be slaves to big government.

    March 16, 2010 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  9. Lise

    So, what is her opinion on the Health Care issue. I didn't really read one in the article and I was very curious since my husband is a family doc. I would have liked to have heard her say something about the health care issues she would like the bill to address. Also, I would have liked to read her opinion on the 21% pay cuts to doc (that was temporarily put off until October) and what the government will do when docs stop seeing Medicare patients altogether. My husband has already closed his practice to Medicare because his accountant told him he couldn't have more then a certain percentage in his practice to stay in the black. Who will take care of their health when there are no docs to see them? 8 years of decrease collections, doc offices open less hours to cut overhead, and not enough docs in the system will not help the newly 33 million insured when they can't get anyone to see them. Oh and if docs only get paid to keep patients healthy and the doc has to fire all his train wreck patients (hypertension, obese, smoker, diabetes) because keeping them in his practice make him look like a bad doc , then who will see these people even with their insurance.

    March 16, 2010 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  10. D.

    This bill is all but a "clear message" and the party lines have been crossed and numerous democrats have voted "no" and will vote "no" to this liberal spending tax bill claiming to be about health! So calling it the democratic party bill is misleading (only to party hacks who believe in following leadership blindly).
    This is the Obama-ego, big government, trial lawyers bill, not a real healthcare bill.

    It's this bill or the American people will?

    March 16, 2010 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  11. Minnesotan

    She's another wimpy Democrat who's more afraid of losing her cushy job than actually helping people....

    March 16, 2010 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  12. j

    Get out there and tell people why they should support health care reform. We've heard enough fiction from the naysayers. It's time to here the pro's for health care reform. Get LOUD, Get VOCAL!

    March 16, 2010 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  13. Denna

    Wow. Even doctors who are Repubs are against the health care reform bill? I wonder how much their insurance company masters are paying them? What doctor in their right mind would not want potential patents to be insured? I guess being a Repub kills ALL brain cells. You snotty brats, health care if not a privilege, it is a right that every human being, not just the unborn, should have.

    March 16, 2010 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  14. leonardofru

    A poll discussed on Fox tonight indicates nearly half of all primary care physicians will leave their practice if the bill passes. Dr. Christensen is out of touch with reality.

    March 16, 2010 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  15. normajean

    A short time ago when both parties were meeting to discuss the health plan, it had been suggested that a team of doctors should be present for their points of view. The next we heard of it was when the Republicans put out a list of nine doctors they would call. These doctors were all Republicans, of course, and no more was heard of the subject.What happened?

    March 16, 2010 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |