Dr. Joe Heck Makes Congressional History

January 2011

By Christie L. Carter
ACEP News Contributing Writer 

It's an understatement to say that Dr. Joseph J. Heck has always felt called to serve others. A renowned emergency physician with a decorated military history, Dr. Heck, who served in the Nevada Senate from 2004 through 2008, is also president and medical director of Specialized Medical Operations Inc., a corporation dedicated to providing high-quality medical training, consulting, and operational support to law enforcement, EMS, and military special operations.

On Nov. 2, 2010, Dr. Heck took his willingness to serve to a whole new level, making history by becoming both the first emergency physician and the first Doctor of Osteopathy to be elected to Congress.

"It's critically important that we finally have a representative of our profession in Congress," said Dr. Heck, elected in Nevada's third Congressional District. "While we've had other physicians serve, including subspecialists, surgeons, and primary care providers, we've not had anyone who truly understands the unique aspects of providing emergency medical care.

"We're the only specialty that takes all comers - regardless of time of day, ability to pay, or complaint," Dr. Heck continued. "When you look at passing health care legislation, there are many nuances and intricacies that have a trickle-down effect on emergency medicine providers."

With his lifetime of service and clearly packed agenda, why did Dr. Heck decide the time was right for a congressional run?

"I looked at the issues we're facing as a nation - primarily jobs, the economy, health care, and national defense - and then I considered my background," he said. "I'm a small business owner and a physician who's not only caring for patients but has been an administrator and an educator, and I've served nearly 20 years in the military. I've focused the last 30 years of my life on the major issues we're facing, and I thought it was time we had people representing us who have contemporaneous, real-world experience."

Dr. Heck pointed to his military background as particularly pertinent to today's times. "Not that I think you must be in the military to address those issues, but I do believe it's helpful when you're making decisions about sending servicemen and women off to war, as well as how to care for our veterans, that we have at least a cadre of folks who have been there to understand the unique issues that our men and women in uniform face," he said.

Dr. Heck's congressional priorities are simple: create jobs and revamp health care reform legislation. "We need to enact meaningful legislation that will actually allow the private sector to create jobs," he said.

As for health care reform legislation, "I think it fundamentally changes the way we provide health care in our country - and not necessarily for the better," Dr. Heck said. "Certainly, there are things in the bill that have merit and should be preserved or tweaked to make them more effective, but I do believe there's a better way to provide increased access to quality health care for more Americans."

Dr. Heck and his congressional peers have a long road ahead, but for now, Dr. Heck would like to extend his thanks to those who helped pave the way for his election: namely NEMPAC, the political action committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians. NEMPAC solicits and accepts voluntary personal contributions from ACEP members that are used to fund the campaigns of candidates running for federal office.

"NEMPAC was a direct campaign contributor and helped mobilize individual emergency medicine physicians around the country to become involved in the campaign through contributions," Dr. Heck said.

"I have no doubt that these actions on my behalf were critically important in helping to push us over the edge to victory on Nov. 2," Dr. Heck continued. "And I'd like to add that Jeanne Slade, ACEP's director of NEMPAC and grassroots advocacy, and her government affairs staff are by far one of the best staffs I've ever had the pleasure of working with."

Dr. Heck does have some advice for fellow emergency physicians who feel the pull of political aspirations but are hesitant to enter such a public arena. "Don't be intimidated," he said, noting a personal observation that physician involvement tends to be somewhat cyclical. When the issue at hand affects them, they'll become involved, becoming complacent once that issue is addressed.

"My take-home point is that we've got to be engaged and involved all the time - not just when there's an issue specific to us," Dr. Heck said. "I would encourage anyone in the health care profession, especially physicians, to become involved in the political process." That could mean getting involved in a local grassroots program or getting to know local representatives.

"Look at running for state office, because much of what impacts us as physicians is decided at the state house, not federally," he said. "I was in state office first, and that allowed me to stay in an emergency medicine position. There are plenty of resources out there to help you through the process. If you're interested and motivated to make a change, then do it!"

In 2010, NEMPAC Gave $1.2 Million

NEMPAC played a major role in the campaigns of candidates in the 2010 elections. Thanks to the generosity and support of thousands of ACEP members nationwide, NEMPAC was able to contribute more than $1.2 million directly to the campaigns of 199 U.S. House of Representatives candidates and 21 U.S. Senate candidates, and an additional $120,000 to national party committees. The breakdown includes:

arrow redU.S. Senate spending: $169,500

arrow redU.S. House spending: $1,044,500

arrow redNational party committees: $120,000

arrow redIndependent expenditures: $160,000

NEMPAC supported Dr. Heck's campaign with the maximum allowable contribution of $10,000. The NEMPAC Board of Trustees also approved an independent expenditure for Dr. Heck's race totaling nearly $100,000 for radio ads and direct mail. An independent expenditure is a political activity intended to assist or oppose a specific candidate for office that is done without the direct knowledge of, or coordination with, the candidate.

NEMPAC currently ranks fourth among physician specialty PACs. This includes the specialty societies of orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, radiologists, and ophthalmologists - which draw from substantially larger membership bases.

"We're thrilled about Dr. Heck's successful campaign and his election to the United States House of Representatives," said Dr. Bruce Auerbach, chair of the NEMPAC Board of Trustees. "It's exciting to have another physician - and particularly an emergency physician - in Congress to provide our perspective and speak to the issues. We know he will be a valuable asset to his fellow Representatives. NEMPAC was proud to have been able to support Dr. Heck the way we did," he continued. "This, and many other similar initiatives for other campaigns, was made possible only by the generous support of our members. As the PAC Board chair, I'm so proud of how our colleagues have recognized the importance of having a strong, well-funded PAC and how it enabled us to participate in Dr. Heck's campaign and help him accomplish this goal."

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