Meet your PA-13… frontrunner? In terms of political experience (none) and name recognition (scant), Dr. Valerie Arkoosh is the dark horse in the race for Allyson Schwartz’s seat in Congress. But she’s not cashing checks like one. She finished the year having raised more cash ($935,000) and having more of it on hand ($643,000) than anyone else in the race. Arkoosh, from Springfield Township, is an obstetric anesthesiologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and was until recently the president of a health care advocacy group called the National Physicians Alliance, which is much less of a lobby for rich doctors than it sounds. I recently spoke with Dr. Arkoosh by phone.
A lot of candidates on the right claim that not having public sector experience is a plus. On the left, not so much. How does it help you to be a political outsider?
My perspective comes from having practiced medicine, really serving, in Philadelphia’s teaching hospitals for over 25 years where I see every day the impact of political decisions in Washington on my patients and their families. When I was down in Washington working on heath care reform, my observation was there are so many members of Congress who have lost touch with that, who have lost touch with what their decisions in Washington really mean in the day-to-day lives of their constituents.
In the past you’ve supported a “public option” for health care reform. Are you still in favor?
I was a strong supporter of a public health insurance option that would have given individuals the option to purchase a health insurance plan that was essentially run by the government, like a Medicare type of plan. My prediction is that if the price of private health insurance polices doesn’t fairly quickly stabilize and become affordable for more people, then we are very likely to see a lot of support building again for a public health insurance option. And I’m for it regardless.
The 13th Congressional District is half urban and half suburban. So you have your established Montco candidate like former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies and you have a guy like Brendan Boyle who's representing the Northeast pretty hard. How do you cater to both voters?
From my perspective, though I do live in the district (ed: unlike Margolies and Daylin Leach), in Springfield Township on the Montgomery County side, I have spent my whole career working in Philadelphia hospitals. And I have cared for people from the 13th, from Northeast Philly, my whole career.
Margolies didn’t show up to a recent candidates forum. I wonder if that speaks to who the perceived underdogs and frontrunners are in the race.
I don’t know why she didn’t participate in that forum. You’d have to ask her campaign that. But from my perspective, it’s just a principle of democracy: I think the voters have the right to hear from every candidate and I think they deserve to hear from every candidate, and they should demand no less.
Daylin Leach has gotten some recent endorsements, Brendan Boyle’s in the statehouse, Margolies used to be in Congress. Do you feel like an underdog?
I do not feel like an underdog, and I’ll tell you why. In the work that I’ve done in Washington and my own career I know that change always comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots up.
From a policy perspective, is there anything you think really distinguishes you from the other candidates?
I think the clearest one is that the former congresswoman Margolies co-sponsored legislation that would have raised the age of social security eligibility, had that legislation become law. That is something I’m opposed to. I’m also an extremely strong advocate of women’s health. … I don’t think you could find a stronger advocate or more credible voice for women’s heath and women’s rights than me.
Is that a subtle comment about Brendan Boyle, whose past positions on abortion rights have been the subject of some debate?
I would just direct you to Planned Parenthood’s candidate rating and on some of their candidates ratings he does have mixed ratings.
Do you think that you can actually… get stuff done in Congress? Put another way, why join the zoo?
I absolutely believe that I can get something done. Right now there’s a very small group of physicians in congress, just 19 total, three of them are Democrats. (Ed: Hello, Rand Paul!) And one of the problems I see is that our health care spending is one of the biggest threats to our economic well being as country right now. The Affordable Care Act is a great first step but we still have a lot more work to do. Without making the smart changes in health care spending that will improve patient care but also reduce redundant costs, we’re not going to have enough money to make the infrastructure investments, investments in education, in our environment, that are desperately needed.
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