Battle of the Doctors? ETSU ObGyn announces Democratic bid for Roe's seat

Zach Vance • Aug 5, 2017 at 11:19 PM

If or when he officially announces his bid for re-election, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe won’t be the only medical doctor, much less ObGyn specialist, wanting to represent Tennessee’s 1st House District in 2018.

Dr. Martin Olsen, an East Tennessee State University ObGyn professor and medical practitioner, informally announced his intent to run for the Democratic nomination during a meeting with the Johnson City Press last week.

“I think I can win,” Olsen said rather earnestly. “Now, am I an underdog? Well, yes, I am an underdog. There’s no doubt about that. But the path to victory is to get about one-third of the (Donald) Trump voters. I think there’s enough Trump fatigue that it’s legitimate.”

Olsen’s preliminary game plan also includes swaying 90 percent of those who voted Democrat or Independent during the last election, as well as sparking those who chose to stay at home.

“I think there is a path to victory and it’s achievable,” Olsen said.

Unsurprisingly enough with his medical background, Congress’ recent debate over upending the Affordable Care Act actually spurred Olsen to action.

“The thought that 22 million people might lose access to their health care because they didn’t have insurance was, just to me, wrong and offensive,” Olsen said.

The West Virginia native said the urge to run for Congress came to him rather swiftly.

“I’m driving down the road listening to the radio saying, ‘You know, somebody ought to do something (about health care).’ Well, then it came to me that maybe I’m that ‘somebody,’ ” Olsen recalled.

In his opinion, Olsen believes America’s health care system will eventually replicate the United Kingdom’s single-payer system.

“I think that’s what the forces of economics and health care will take us. I’m an advocate for incremental change. When we see revolutionary change, people aren’t happy. So with incremental change, they may be happy,” Olsen said.

An example of incremental change, Olsen said, would be slowly switching certain populations, like seniors or even members of Congress, to the single-payer system until the entire nation is eventually medically insured. 

Olsen said he’s been an Independent for the past 25 years, but chose the Democratic nomination because of local support from party leaders.

"In my conversations with local leaders, I have confirmed that most Democrats in the region, like me, believe in the importance of financial responsibility in our government, the need to support educational excellence for all, and the responsibility to ensure that our neighbors have health care coverage,” Olsen said.

A big proponent of public education, a large portion of Olsen’s family are currently or were formerly educators.

In his current role, Olsen has firsthand experience in treating opioid-dependent mothers with buprenorphine, but he’s also a prime advocate for reducing buprenorphine dosage during pregnancy, an attempt to reduce the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“There is a cohort of addicted patients who really want help and assistance to get off (prescription medication). There is a cohort who is manipulative, and it’s challenging at times to separate the two,” Olsen said.

“There is overlap. The patient who is manipulative when she arrives may start trusting her physician, and then start actually working to decrease her opioid addiction.”

In his experience, Olsen said he’s aware of what he calls “a vicious cycle” of patients who sell most of their prescription or half of it to buy opioids or fund their next treatment.

“I think there needs to be a close look at how we give our buprenorphine in this country,” Olsen said.

Although he’s is firm believer in free markets, Olsen did say governmental intervention is occasionally necessary, with an example being the inefficiency of certain electronic health record systems.

With approximately 20 trips to the Middle East under his belt, including 14 to Iraq, Olsen’s other top interest includes improving foreign policy and international relations.

“I’ve helped establish a maternal safety course (in Iraq) so that was a big part of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ effort,” Olsen said.

“That gives me some experience in working with people around the world. The Middle East is going to remain a challenge for our government, and I have ‘boots on the ground’ experience in peacefully working with folks in coming to problem-solving conclusions and making progress for future growth of their citizens.”

Although he was born in West Virginia, Olsen spent most of his childhood in Ohio after his parents moved to take new jobs. Olsen earned his undergraduate degree at Muskingham College before attending the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo.

To expand his name recognition, Olsen said he plans to travel the district in the coming months and drum up support.

As of last week, he was still in the process of filing the necessary paperwork to become an official candidate.

Roe has yet to officially announce his intent to run for a sixth term, but in 2016, Roe waited until June of that year to make his official announcement.

The 2018 primary will be held on Aug. 2 with the general election falling on Nov. 6.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.


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