As part of EPM’s commitment to encouraging emergency physicians to become more effective advocates for our patients and our specialty, we’ll be running a series of interviews with the emergency physicians who will be candidates for congressional office in 2012. While you may not live in the particular candidate’s voting district, you can still support their candidacies if you agree that their positions on the issues are good for the country at large. There are never any “perfect” candidates, and certainly no candidate that every emergency physician will agree with on all issues. However, as a specialty, we can support candidates and elected officials who understand the day-to-day challenges we face in the emergency department and are willing to serve as advocates for the practice of emergency medicine.
EPM: Tell us about your personal history. How has that history shaped your desire to run for Congress?
Raul Ruiz: I am grateful for the opportunities we have in our country. I grew up with farm worker parents who did not have a high school education. I was four years old when we were able to move out of our trailer and into our home in Coachella, California. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic that valued education as a means to improve ourselves, our family and our country. My mission to serve others was formulated at a young age when I decided to not let my circumstances limit me and chose to become a physician. With a strong sense of personal responsibility in order to serve others with social responsibility I set off on an academic journey that lead me to graduate magna cum laude at UCLA and then receive a medical degree at Harvard Medical School, a Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Masters in Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. I am the first Latino to ever receive three graduate degrees from Harvard University. I returned home to fulfill a promise to serve the community as a physician advocate. Through my physician advocacy work in the community I have witnessed a decline of the American Dream. Congress is a means to serve the people of this great country and to help reduce poverty by increasing jobs with a livable wage, improve education opportunities, and improve healthcare access for all Americans. We need to revive the American Dream.
Where do you practice EM?
After completing my residency at the University of Pittsburgh Affiliated Residency in emergency medicine and the Fellowship in international emergency medicine at Harvard, I returned to my home area to work with EMP at Eisenhower Medical Center in August 2007. I could not ask for a better group of emergency physician colleagues, nurses and staff to work with.
What are the top issues that you feel will face the nation in the coming years?
The American people continue to suffer poverty, unemployment, declining education opportunities, and continue to suffer needlessly due to their inability to afford healthcare, lack of health insurance, and their reliance on an overburdened and crumbling healthcare safety net. Congress needs to systematically address these issues by focusing on job-creation, economic stimulus that puts money back in the pockets of American families, education and vocational opportunities for our children, so in the future, we can continue to live up to our reputation of being the birth place of innovation. If we want to save the American Dream we have to ensure all Americans enjoy the fulfillment of their basic rights; right to education, right to health care, freedom from violence, the opportunity to meet basic needs, and fulfill their dreams.
How has your experience as an emergency physician prepared you to represent your constituents and the nation at large on these issues?
Emergency physicians are really at the front lines of the social ills we have in America; whether it’s a surge in gang violence or lack of health care insurance because of joblessness or a public safety or public health issue, we feel it and see the effects in the emergency department. You can feel the pulse of America throughout our country’s emergency departments.
Given that the nation has become soured to some degree on “political insiders”, what is your political experience in getting things done?
My experience at Harvard has provided me with a skill set in public policy, public health, and medicine that positions me to have a unique solution-based, people come first, physician’s perspective in creating common sense policies that will improve our country and revive the American Dream.
How can emergency physicians support your candidacy?
As a Member of Congress I will be voting on laws that will affect us all in America, regardless if you live in my district or not. I want to effectively voice our concerns as emergency physicians and enact our solutions in congress. Emergency physicians can help my campaign directly and put another of their own in Congress by making an individual financial contribution to my campaign at www.drraulruiz.com. Although elections shouldn’t be based on which candidate can raise the most money, the reality is that having money allows a candidate to have their voice and positions heard. The second thing that you can do is to discuss my candidacy as a group and encourage your physician and nurse colleagues and friends to support and talk about my campaign. Support and momentum for a campaign can build very quickly and grassroots word of mouth is a very powerful tool. I want every emergency physician to know about my campaign and learn more about what I believe.
Given the continued economic pressures on the country what healthcare reforms would you propose as a member of Congress?
There is no doubt that America spends a significant amount of money on healthcare. There is also no doubt that the entry of the Baby Boomer generation into the Medicare pool will increase the financial pressures on the healthcare system. Given these realities, some reform to the healthcare financing system was, and still is, necessary. I believe that some of the components of the healthcare reform enacted in this country under the PPACA law are good: elimination of lifetime caps, ban on exclusions to coverage based upon pre-existing conditions, and closure of the Medicare “donut” hole were all good. I also believe that the law missed a great opportunity to reduce healthcare costs by not comprehensively reforming tort reform and the cost of defensive medicine….this must happen if we are serious about reducing waste in the system. Lastly, although I support evaluation of innovative payments models like bundled payments and ACOs, I would strongly advocate for specific protections for emergency medicine in these payment models to protect the key role emergency physicians play in the healthcare safety net.
What role do you see for government to improve the overall healthcare of patients seen in the emergency department?
We need to include emergency medicine and the emergency department as part of the investment to strengthen our healthcare safety-net. The emergency department will always serve as the safety net for the sick and injured in our country on a 24/7/365 basis…that will never change. Given the economic challenges facing this country, we need to make cost-effective investments in those components of the healthcare system that provide real value to the system. Emergency medicine does this every day. We need to develop innovative solutions and systems that provide the emergency department the resources needed to improve post-ED patient care coordination services. We need to take advantage of the efficiency of emergency medicine and integrate that effectiveness into new healthcare financing and payment systems that are occurring as part of healthcare reform.
How do you believe you can be effective as an individual Member of Congress given the partisanship that we see in Washington?
Just as an emergency physician who puts our patients’ first with effective and proven therapy, as a congressman I intend to put people first and work with all parties to find and implement the most effective policy that will have measurable improved outcomes. Our focus should be on improving outcomes for people and not playing politics. We can change congress by changing one congressperson at a time. I will do my part.
Why do you believe you can win your election in your district in 2012?
This is a historic race for our district. The voter registration and demographics have been changing rapidly over the past 6 years from a 10% to less than a 2% Republican voter registration advantage. The natural demographic evolution of this district has made 2012 an important year to change the type of person who represents the people of the 36th district. Furthermore, 47% of the district’s population is Latino. I am the first home-grown and Latino candidate running in this district. However, more than the numbers, the moral clarity of doing what is right for people and eliminating the do-nothing partisan gridlock in order to serve and improve our country will fuel our campaign to victory.
Next Month: Q&A with Senator Joe Heck, from Nevada.