Medical doctors have always been part of American political life, from the founding of our nation to the present day. Many physicians have held public office throughout the years on the local, state and national level. A total of 52 physicians have served in the U.S. Senate to date, according to the official Senate website, Senate.gov. Many others have served in the House of Representatives. Currently, there are 18 doctors serving in the 116th Congress, including four who are Senators. This is significant since doctors, particularly those who become lawmakers, can be influential voices in battles over federal health care legislation, one of the most urgent and contentious topics of debate in this election year.
It’s worth noting that among the 18 doctors who are presently serving in Congress, two of them are eye doctors. One is an ophthalmologist and the other an optometrist, and both are U.S. Senators. Observers of the U.S. political scene, as well as voters in their respective states, can no doubt name them. But if you don’t know who these eye doctors are, or would like to learn more about them and how their experiences as vision care professionals may influence their views and votes on health care, here is some background information compiled from select sources.
Senator John Boozman
Year elected: 2011
Committee Membership: Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade (Chairman); Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources; Subcommittee on Nutrition, Agriculture Research and Specialty Crops; Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (Chairman); Subcommittee on Defense; Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies; Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government; Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs; Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing & Urban Development and Related Agencies; Environment and Public Works (EPW); Veterans’ Affairs.
Information about Senator Boozman’s political career is available on his official Senate website.
Information about Senator Boozman’s career and voting record is available at Ballotpedia.org.
Professional Background and Health Care Views
Senator Boozman graduated from Southern College of Optometry in 1977 and started an eye clinic in Rogers, Arkansas more than 30 years ago with his brother, an ophthalmologist. He has also provided care to children with vision difficulties on mission trips to Costa Rica and Haiti, as well as in Arkansas communities. That’s why early in his career he helped found the low vision program at the Arkansas School for the Blind.
While he doesn’t practice on a regular basis, Senator Boozman remains committed to optometry and helping provide patients with access to quality vision care. He is fortunate to have the ability to shape policy that can help improve services and opportunities for eyecare providers and patients. For several years serving in Congress, he was the sole member who was an optometrist. This gave him a unique opportunity to bring important eyecare issues to the forefront of discussions in Washington.
Early in his congressional service the Food and drug Administration (FDA) changed the classification of non-corrective color contact lenses from medical devices to cosmetic devices. Having seen firsthand the damage done when people don’t follow directions relating to their contacts, eyecare providers and leaders in the industry understood that this classification could result in serious problems. So, as the congressman representing the Third District of Arkansas, he worked with members of Congress to pass legislation requiring the FDA to regulate these lenses by classifying them as medical devices.
Another way Senator Boozman has used his expertise to benefit the eyecare industry and promote better eye health has been by focusing on those who have sacrificed for our nation—our veterans. Vision-related injuries are increasing in our troops returning home. Through a collaborative efforts among the eyecare community, Boozman introduced the Military Eye Trauma Treatment Act which created the Vision Center of Excellence. This Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs partnership ensures our troops who have sustained eye-related injuries are treated according to best practices in order to deliver the quality care they deserve.
Last Congress, Boozman brought the concerns of the American Optometric Association to the attention of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs regarding a pilot program aimed at providing eyecare to veterans in rural areas.
As a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, Boozman regularly meets with other members of Congress who are medical providers to discuss issues impacting health care. The senator has shared his experiences with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and pressed for reforms to our health care system, including Medicare reimbursement rates.
Source: Spokesperson for Senator John Boozman
Views on COVID-19 Crisis
“Ensuring state and local governments have the resources to prevent the spread of the disease, treat those infected and support research to find a vaccine is good for public health. Senator Boozman understands the urgency to address this emergency so our hospitals can continue to ensure patients have access to the doctors, treatment and resources they need to recover. He understands the importance of listening to the medical experts and following their recommendations.”
Source: Spokesperson for Senator Boozman, responding to a question from VM
Senator Rand Paul
Year Elected: 2010
Committee Membership: Senate Foreign Relations; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; Small Business and Entrepreneurial Committees.
Senator Paul is a conservative libertarian. Information about his political career is available on his official Senate website. Additional information about Senator Paul’s career and voting record is available at Ballotpedia.org.
Dr. Paul owned his own ophthalmology practice in Bowling Green, Ky. and performed eye surgery for 18 years. In 1995, Dr. Paul founded the Southern Kentucky Lions Eye Clinic, an organization that provides eye exams and surgery to needy families and individuals. He is a former president and 17-year member of Lions Clubs International, which is dedicated to preserving sight by providing eyeglasses and surgery to the less fortunate around the world. In recognition of his outstanding and sustained efforts to provide vision care to Kentuckians in need, Lions Clubs International has awarded Dr. Paul many of its highest commendations.
A large part of Dr. Paul's daily work as an ophthalmologist was dedicated to preserving the vision of our seniors. In 2002, The Twilight Wish Foundation recognized Dr. Paul for Outstanding Service and Commitment to Seniors.
During his free time, Dr. Paul currently performs pro-bono eye surgeries for patients across Kentucky. Additionally, he provides free eye surgery to children from around the world through his participation in the Children of the Americas Program. Most recently, he traveled to Guatemala and Haiti on a medical mission trip with the University of Utah's Moran Eye Center. During his time in Guatemala and Haiti, over 200 patients, many of them blind with cataracts, had their vision restored.
“Dr. Paul's entrance into politics is indicative of his life’s work as a surgeon: a desire to diagnose problems and provide practical solutions, whether it be in Bowling Green, Ky., or Washington, D.C.”
Source: Senator Rand Paul’s official campaign website.
Health Care Views
Dr. Paul does not support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. His campaign website reads, "I was not a member of the U.S. Senate during the 111th Congress, but if I had been I would have voted against Obamacare. As your president, one of my first acts would be to repeal the abomination that is Obamacare."
Dr. Paul is in favor of a free-market approach to health care. He says he believes increased government interventions drive up the cost of coverage and decrease competition. As a senator, he publicly supported making medical expenses tax deductible, allowing businesses to provide coverage, allowing physicians to negotiate costs with insurance companies and Health Savings Accounts.
He believes in higher Medicare deductibles and moving to a premium support system. In a 2010 interview, Dr. Paul said, "You want to have more participation by the person who's receiving the entitlement. By that I mean that they need to be more involved with some sort of economic transaction every time they use their entitlement, and that means they have to bear more of the burden," according to Bloomberg Business. Dr. Paul supports a premium support system for Medicare, which would give seniors the ability to choose between traditional Medicare and private insurance on an exchange, according to Vox.
Dr. Paul supports vaccines, but believes they should be voluntary. "I've heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines," Dr. Paul said, according to CNN. "I'm not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they're a good thing. But I think the parents should have some input." He later followed up and said he is vaccinated, his children are vaccinated, he supports vaccines and he does not believe they cause disorders, but that they are "temporally related."
His comments on Ebola have also garnered media attention. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Paul shared the following comments: "[The Obama administration] has downplayed how transmissible [Ebola] is. They say it's the exchange of bodily of fluids. Which makes people think, 'Oh, it's like AIDS. It's very difficult to catch.'”
Dr. Paul believes medical marijuana is a state's rights issue, not a federal one. He teamed up with two Democrats to introduce a bill that would protect medical marijuana buyers and sellers from federal prosecution in states where marijuana is legal for medical and recreational purposes. He has also supported lessening the sentence for nonviolent marijuana offenders.
Source: 10 Things to Know About Rand Paul’s Medical Career, Healthcare Views, Beckers Hospital Review
Views on COVID-19 Crisis
Senator Paul confirmed on March 22 that he tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. He was sharply criticized by his colleagues for spending a week interacting with them and aides, as well as using Capitol Hill facilities while awaiting his COVID-19 test results. Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of Utah, went into self-quarantine after being in proximity to Paul.
In a March 24 op-ed piece in USA Today, Senator Paul urged people to stop “finger-wagging” at him for not self-quarantining while awaiting his coronavirus test results.
“I did not quarantine while awaiting a coronavirus test because I did not meet the criteria for quarantine,” Paul wrote. “In fact, I did not meet the current criteria for even being tested, much less quarantined.” He added, “Instead of hounding people who got tested and then quarantined themselves, perhaps we need to broaden the testing and quit the finger-wagging.”