Amid a global healthcare crisis, Dr. Barbara Bollier aims to focus her medical expertise and decade's worth of state political experience on affordable healthcare for all.
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If Barbara Bollier wins her bid to represent Kansas in the Senate, she’ll be the first woman physician to ever serve in the chamber. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become urgently clear just how important it is that we make that kind of history.
Bollier followed in the footsteps of her parents—a nurse and a doctor—and graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine. After completing her residency, Bollier even began working alongside her father as an anesthesiologist at Surgicenter in Kansas City. Bollier’s entré into politics also emerged from her work in medicine: She was called to public service when lawmakers began crafting the Affordable Care Act, and successfully ran for state office in order to become an advocate at a larger scale for her patients.
Over ten years later, Bollier has carved out a reputation in Kansas politics for speaking truth to power and advocating for her constituents. She made headlines for taking on her own party over issues like LGBTQ rights and even tax policy—and, in 2018, her commitment to compassionate care and science-based policy even led her to switch party affiliations. In 2019, the newly-minted Democrat took her challenge to the GOP one step further by launching a campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Senator Pat Roberts.
Bollier’s priorities are shaped by her background as a physician—and in this current moment, they feel like a much-needed balm for a global crisis. In addition to upholding women’s reproductive health care and rights and fighting for teachers and public education reform, Bollier’s campaign is focused on lowering health care costs, protecting and expanding Medicaid and Medicare, strengthening rural hospital systems and reining in medical expenses.
This is the second in DAME’s interview series with the Democratic women vying to flip the Senate in 2020.
I’m so curious to talk to you about your big career switch—from being a doctor to running for office. What was your motivation to enter politics initially?
It was when the Affordable Care Act was first coming out. I felt that people who had practiced medicine should be at the table as we reformed healthcare in this country. Rather than me advocating one-on-one for patients, I realized I needed to become a public policy advocate for patients, one-on-millions, to get good public policy passed.
And what motivated you to run for the Senate now, in this moment, and try to take this seat?
I was needed. We need people who have backgrounds in science and who are like me—who have an independent voice of reason—to come to the table, and health care is the number-one issue not only for Kansans, but all over the country. For the very same reasons that I started down this path, we need people who understand the system and can help reform it—keeping quality and safety at the forefront for our patients.
How does your background in medicine shape your policies and the way that you run your campaign?
In-between practicing anesthesia and becoming a public policy servant, I worked in bioethics—which is the bringing together of law, medicine and faith as we look at the ethical implications and needs of patients and decisions we make around their care. I also grew up with a father who started free-standing ambulatory surgery centers in the United States in order to help reduce the cost of our healthcare system. I have always had an eye out for how to do things in the best way possible—for the least cost; preserving quality, safety, but still bringing costs down—and now, I have 11 years of experience in the legislature. I need to be at the table as a representative and to represent Kansans’ voices in the U.S. Senate.
How does gender and feminism make what you’re trying to do in government different?
Women’s voices tend to be raised in a way that we work together, and I think that’s very important at this time. We’re willing to sidestep the political posturing and say I want to work for an outcome, I have an issue that needs to be solved, let’s make things happen by listening to one another and working to get things done. I think that’s something women uniquely—not singularly, but very uniquely—do well together.
You also have a political reputation for standing up for what you believe is right, even if it means taking on people in your own party. What lessons have you learned in the legislature that you’re going to be bringing to Congress with you?
When you listen to the people and follow what they are asking for, you are doing the right thing—and they will support that. It is not about trying to figure out how people, or whether people, will re-elect you or not. If you’re doing what they want and need and representing their voice as well, you will be re-elected. But I don’t do this to be re-elected. I do this to represent people. I wish that all of us in elected office were doing our job as public policy servants to represent the voice of the people.
You also recently switched parties and formally affiliated with the Democrats. Do you feel like Kansas is ready for a pro-woman, pro-LGBTQ candidate to sit in this seat?
I would say the whole country is. Kansas is but one example. We have always been able to put aside just a party and vote for the person: There are as many governors who have been Democrats [in Kansas] as have been Republicans, and I think that is something people forget over time. People want to be cared for, no matter where they live—they want healthcare available to them, they want stable economics so they can earn a living and raise their family well, they want their children well-educated. Those things don’t change.
How are you hoping to fight for folks who are in Kansas in the Senate—and what impact are you also hoping that you can have across the country?
What I’m hearing from Kansans is that they know that our healthcare system is too complicated and too expensive. I see an opportunity to be on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee and help move forward with changes and how we actually have access to the healthcare system. It would be a public option buy-in, focusing on ways to bring costs down. A perfect example would be being able to bargain and directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for the price of medications through Medicare and Medicaid.
We’re also in an unprecedented time in our country right now. We don’t know the impact of the coronavirus and how it’s going to affect our economics. I will plan to be right at that table and making sure we’re not driving our economy into further debt.
I know that health care reform drives many, many other pieces of this country, and particularly impacts our economics as well, so that would absolutely be a place I know that I am first needed—but, you know, another great area would be early childhood, and making sure that people have access to affordable and quality daycare and childcare.
How do you face down fear in public life?
I learned a long time ago in medical school that you’ve got to make a decision and go with it. Trusting the knowledge you have and knowing what you don’t know and seeking help from others—that’s what collaboration is and what it’s about. I feel very secure, because I’m a physician and because I’ve done it for 11 years in the state legislature. I am confident in my decision-making skills and know that I can do an excellent job representing the people.
DAME is partnering with Women Count to amplify the campaigns of the Democratic women running for Senate in 2020. To learn more about each candidate’s platform, visit https://womencount.org/
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