Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, authorized a mail piece against her Senate opponent, Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, calling the OB-GYN a “quack.” Dunnavant called it a personal attack on her professional reputation as a doctor.
In a TV ad that began Friday, Rodman changed tone, beginning the ad by saying she respected Dunnavant’s work as a doctor and then attacking her over health care — which many candidates in this fall’s races say is the top issue for voters.
Asked in an interview Friday if she regretted authorizing a mailer calling Dunnavant a “quack” or heard any criticism, Rodman said she had not.
“I’ve delivered more people health care in ... three months in office than she has done in her whole tenure as a politician,” said Rodman, referring to the successful Democratic effort in 2018 to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans joined Democrats to support expansion, but most General Assembly Republicans — including Dunnavant — did not.
Dunnavant said that in addition to being called a fake doctor, the mail piece falsely said she is trying to let insurers deny health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
“This is a denigrating slur, and it’s one of the most offensive things you could say about a doctor because it implies that they are incompetent in their profession and in their expertise and in the care of their patients,” Dunnavant said. “It’s shocking to me that as a professional woman, I’m under assault by a woman who is a ... professor.”
Dunnavant’s campaign released a joint statement from two doctors, Christian Chisholm, an executive committee member with the Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative, and Hazle Konerding, a past president of the Medical Society of Virginia and a past president of the Richmond Academy of Medicine.
“Referring to a physician as a quack is an unacceptable professional insult. More to the point, in the case of Siobhan Dunnavant it is simply untrue,” they said in the statement. “The term ‘quack’ means an imposter who claims to have medical knowledge but in reality does not. Dr. Dunnavant is a respected member of the medical community who cares deeply for her patients and her constituents. Delegate Rodman’s attack is damaging to the medical profession, disregards a physician’s years of training and experience, and undermines the trust patients place in their doctors.”
Two GOP bills cited in the mail piece did not become law.
Dunnavant said one of them, which she filed in 2018, was designed to create a low-cost insurance choice for someone who loses health insurance. While Republicans said the bill expanded choice, Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed it, saying in a 2018 statement that the bill would allow insurance carriers and individuals to circumvent the protections in the federal Affordable Care Act.
“Delegate Rodman may not know this, but the short term gap coverage market has been able to apply pre-existing condition exclusions for many years, before I ever even served in the Senate,” Dunnavant wrote on her website. “My bill made it easier for those who had no other options and wanted to avoid the risk of bankruptcy for a medical event.”
Northam said at the time that a better opportunity was expanding Medicaid.
The other bill this year was from Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield, to allow more people to purchase low-cost, high-deductible “catastrophic” health plans. Northam vetoed that bill along with three others that he said in March would undermine Virginia’s health insurance marketplace and raise premiums.
Dunnavant was first elected in 2015 and is seeking a second term. Rodman, a professor at Randolph-Macon College, unseated Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, in the 2017 wave election that flipped 15 Republican seats in the House of Delegates.
The Senate race is a priority for both parties because it’s among those that will determine control of the chamber, which is in GOP hands. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election Nov. 5.