As a registered nurse and former Trump appointee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Renee Ellmers has plenty of ideas on health care policy.

Now she wants to bring those ideas to the North Carolina lieutenant governor’s office, giving the ill-defined position a specific mission in a critical arena of public policy.

Ellmers announced this week that she’ll seek the office in 2020, immediately becoming the frontrunner in a still-sparse GOP field. She spoke to Longleaf Politics about her vision for the role, her ideas for improving the state’s health care system and the lessons she’s learned from an up-and-down political career.

Photo by Renee Ellmers via Facebook

This is Ellmers first run for office after a two-year political hiatus. She was elected to Congress in 2010 and served three terms before losing a Republican primary to fellow U.S. Rep. George Holding after a mid-decade redistricting thrust the two into the same slot.

The lieutenant governor role is much less defined. North Carolina elects its governor and lieutenant separately, and for the past three years has had a partisan split between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

Forest is now running for governor, and Ellmers made it clear she supports his candidacy. But she’s still passionate about the health care issues that propelled her to Congress in the first place.

“I see this as a real opportunity,” Ellmers said. “I can be a singular voice instead of being drowned out by 435 other voices.”

Ellmers was swept into office amid a Tea Party movement and became known for her opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. She says she felt sure that when President Donald Trump was elected and Republicans held the House and Senate, some progress would be made on moving healthcare forward. That didn’t happen.

“I decided, I can either sit on the sidelines or throw myself back into it,” she said.

And her candidacy comes at a time when health care is at the forefront of state policy debates. Democrats have said Medicaid expansion is their top priority, but it doesn’t appear to be making headway. Republicans have proposed eliminating the state’s certificate of need laws that restrict health care expansion and work requirements for receiving Medicaid as an able-bodied person.

There’s also an ongoing debate between State Treasurer Dale Folwell and certain members of the General Assembly over how to strike the balance between cost transparency and reducing prices for the State Health Plan and supporting rural hospitals.

For the record, Ellmers is against expanding Medicaid or the “Medicaid for All” proposal put forward by Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders: “I think that is very, very dangerous because there’s no way our country can afford that,” she said.

Instead, the way forward is to increase choice and transparency and lower costs, Ellmers said. She spoke at length about using telehealth to increase access to doctors in rural areas. She also stressed that just getting everybody health insurance is not a guarantee of better coverage. Instead, it takes a more holistic approach that includes economic development in rural areas.

Ellmers describes herself as a common sense conservative and Ronald Reagan Republican. But she defines herself by what she’s able to get done.

“I’m not about spouting political talking points,” Ellmers said. “I don’t see health care as a partisan issue.”

Cover photo by Renee Ellmers for North Carolina via Facebook.

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