In 2010, Rep. Joe Heck became the first emergency physician (and first osteopathic physician) elected to the US Congress. In addition to his emergency physician skills, Rep. Heck brought to Washington a unique skill set developed through years of military and specialized medical operations experience. A New York City kid by birth, Heck now represents the people of the 3rd District of Nevada where he moved in 1992. Currently in his first term in the US House of Representatives, Rep. Heck serves on the House Armed Services Committee, House Education and Workforce Committee, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
EPM: Tell us about your personal history and how that history shaped your desire to run for Congress.
Senator Heck: I worked in D.C. for the Department of Defense for four years. My time there piqued my interest in elected office. Upon return to Nevada, I decided to run for State Senate and was successful. In 2010, the issues facing our nation where personal to me: the healthcare reform debate, the economy – I was a physician who owned a small consulting company that was struggling due to the downturn in the economy. Plus, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resonated with me as a 20-year Army Reservist who served in Iraq. I thought it was time to have more people in Congress who actually lived the problems we were facing as a nation.
Where do you practice medicine?
University Medical Center, Las Vegas, NV
What are the top issues that you feel will face the nation in the coming years?
Number one will remain jobs and economy. I also believe that foreign policy will become more important.
How has your experience as an emergency physician prepared you to represent your constituents and the nation at large on these issues?
Emergency medicine training has proven to be very useful – every problem we face as a nation is complex with many inter-related issues. As an emergency physician, we are trained to triage, to determine what needs to be done first, analyze to come to a differential diagnosis, and formulate a treatment strategy. And we are trained to do this quickly, effectively, and sometimes with limited information. The same process can be applied to legislating.
Given that the nation has become soured to some degree on “political insiders,” what is your political experience in getting things done?
During my time as a State Senator I was seen as a consensus builder and willing to reach across the aisle. I continue in that mold in the House of Representatives. A piece of legislation that I introduced was recently passed and signed into law by the President. It had 34 co-sponsors, 18 from across the aisle. Another bill has 13 co-sponsors from across the aisle as well. While the term “political insider” has a negative connotation, it is helpful to know rules, procedures, idiosyncrasies, and personalities to achieve certain policy goals. That education only comes from experience.
How can emergency physicians support your candidacy if they so desire?
I am extremely fortunate to have had support from ACEP, ACOEP and EMP/EPMG during my first campaign. Local emergency physicians are critical from a grass-roots perspective in helping to talk to other colleagues in the hospital dining room, and their friends and neighbors. Nationally, emergency physicians can help primarily through financial support.
Given the continued economic pressures on the country, what healthcare reforms would you propose as a member of Congress?
The ultimate goal is to increase access to quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans. To that end, my office is currently working on legislation that will repeal, repair and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with more patient-centered reforms. Some of the insurance reforms in PPACA are necessary and will remain, however many of the other provisions of the bill are too proscriptive and costly. We must provide incentives for individuals to purchase insurance, which can include tax-deductibility for individual policies, allowing members of associations to band together to buy group policies, and allowing individuals to purchase the type and amount of coverage that is right for them.
What role do you see for government to improve the overall healthcare of patients seen in the emergency department?
The vast majority of the patients we see in the ED present because they have nowhere else to go. We must increase access to primary care medicine and medical homes, so that individuals can receive routine medical care on a periodic basis instead of an episodic basis in the ED.
How do you believe you can be effective as an individual Member of Congress given the partisanship that we see in Washington?
The goal is to accomplish something for the people of our country. I admit that as a freshman member among the 435 representatives, alone you can accomplish nothing. But, if you are willing to work with colleagues in both parties and both chambers, and, and this is a big AND, if you are willing to work for something that you believe in while not caring who gets credit, you can be successful in building the coalitions necessary for success.
Why do you believe you can win your election in your district in 2012?
Well, there is a lot of inside baseball here. First, the voter registration, after redistricting, has moved in my favor from the prior election when I won by a .5% margin. While not always a benefit, incumbency helps. I also believe that we have the best constituent services team in Congress - and that’s what it comes down to - taking care of constituents. My District Office staff has worked extremely hard at providing outstanding constituent services on everything from home foreclosures to social security issues to veterans’ issues and more, while maintaining and aggressive community outreach program throughout the district.
Next Month: Q&A with
Dr. John McGoff