This Gay, Progressive Doctor is the Cure Congress Needs

 
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Dr. Matt Heinz is little short of phenomenal. Dedicated, intelligent, and passionate about improving American lives. His specialist healthcare knowledge will be invaluable in Congress, and so will his commitment to equality and progressive ideals.

While corporate lobbyists in the insurance sector have been fighting against the right to healthcare, Matt Heinz has been listening to his patients - discovering the issues that are affecting them most. Matt has spent 15 years working as an attending physician in Tucson Medical Center; he coordinated efforts to the Ebola crisis as Director of Provider and LGBT Outreach in the Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and served as caucus whip for the Democrats. Now he’s now running for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. We’re proud to give him our endorsement.


“It’s an honor to have the support of LGBTQ+ committee Run with Pride. Their dedication to the congressional representation of our diverse, wonderful communities is invaluable. It is reassuring to have an ally who shares my passion for equality and progressive politics in the US.”  - Dr. Matt Heinz


It’s not often that a medical doctor takes up politics, what inspired that move?

That’s an easy one! The answer is simple: my patients. I started my political career when I was still a resident because I could already see the many failings of our healthcare system and how it leaves patients behind. I strongly believe that the oath I swore to serve patients extends beyond my work at the hospital — it also requires advocacy for patients in government. Now more than ever, we need health professionals to have a seat at the table to inform healthcare discussions and facilitate sensible, patient-centered health policy. Leaving these important decisions in the hands of special interests, lobbyists, and career politicians is too risky for my patients and the struggling healthcare system.

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“The US model that currently prioritizes profits over patients is one that cannot be tolerated any longer.”


I think it’s safe to say that you’re passionate about healthcare. On the other side of the Atlantic, people are horror-struck when they hear about American healthcare. Why is the US healthcare system so far behind?

We have allowed our entire political process, particularly regarding healthcare, to be taken over by entrenched special interests and industry lobbyists. The US model that currently prioritizes profits over patients is one that cannot be tolerated any longer. I believe healthcare is a right. Federal law requires doctors and hospitals to treat patients in our emergency departments regardless of their ability to pay or any other attribute. We as a nation have already recognized that healthcare must be afforded to all Americans in emergencies, so now it’s time to follow that logic and ensure our people have affordable, quality medical care during non-emergencies. This will improve outcomes for patients, reduce medical-related debt, and reduce the financial burden on the healthcare system simultaneously. Plus, it’s just the decent thing to do for American families.

Apart from healthcare, which issues are you most passionate about?

Progressive values are what drive me to be politically involved — healthcare as a right, equal treatment of all people, responsible environmental stewardship, debt-free education, fair living wages, progressive tax reform, consumer protection from financial predators, expanded access to voting, unrestricted access to the internet, and many other important issues.


“This administration is working tirelessly to tear down existing protections for LGBTQ+ people at every turn. As a gay physician, I am particularly committed to aggressively defending equality for all people and communities.”


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A lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community are feeling under siege. Do you think they’re right to worry? If elected, do you plan to defend the community?

Members of the LGBTQ+ community know all too well that constant vigilance and advocacy are necessary to protect and expand equality at all levels. Transgender individuals have been targeted for discrimination twice by the Trump administration using junk science in an attempt to force the armed services to reject transgender applicants without basis. We still lack housing protections and workplace nondiscrimination protections in many states. Family law, including adoption and custody issues for same-sex couples, remains inconsistent and often unnecessarily complicated. And the US Department of Health and Human Services — where I served for two years during ACA implementation — has proposed a ghastly rule that would effectively turn the Hippocratic oath upside-down by allowing healthcare professionals to refuse to treat LGBTQ+ patients for religious reasons. So yes, our community is rightfully concerned. This administration is working tirelessly to tear down existing protections for LGBTQ+ people at every turn. As a gay physician, I am particularly committed to aggressively defending equality for all people and communities.

You support progressive policies, but I noticed that you’ve also worked across the aisle on some bipartisan bills. Do you define yourself as a progressive, a centrist, or neither?

My record in the Arizona House demonstrates that I consistently advocated for progressive policies and principles. Thanks to my medical background, I work well with others — even when we differ on political positions — so in passing bills, I was able to engage my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion in order to move some of this progressive legislation through the process.


“Entrenched career politicians who ignore the activated Democratic voters will alienate the base and will not fare well come November.”


Let’s talk about the Democrats. After the 2016 election, a lot of people were calling for change, has it happened?

I think you’re seeing that happen right now. If we listen to the people, they will guide the way. In medicine, we are taught to listen to our patients when working toward a diagnosis and treatment plan. If we ignore our patients then we may not be doing what is in their best interests. Likewise, candidates who acknowledge and embrace the demands of Democratic voters for decency, strength in our values, and new leadership will be successful in 2018. Entrenched career politicians who ignore the activated Democratic voters will alienate the base and will not fare well come November.

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What are the biggest challenges facing Arizona-02? And what makes you the best representative for Arizonans in Congress?

Southern Arizona was severely impacted by the crash in the housing market and subsequent Great Recession. Our recovery has been slow relative to almost every other major metropolitan area. While the local economy has picked up quite a bit and unemployment continues to fall, many southern Arizona families are still struggling. As a practicing physician for 15 years at the area’s largest hospital, I hear from patients everyday about much more than their medical problems. They also tell me about foreclosures, educational expenses, unemployed adults living with their parents, and other concerns. As a result of my work in the hospital, I receive real-time information about the people in my community. It is this close connection that uniquely qualifies me to represent and advocate for the interests of southern Arizonans.

Is there anyone from your personal life or the public sphere who inspired your campaign?

Shortly after running unsuccessfully for AZ House in 2006, I received some unsolicited and incredibly inspiring words of encouragement from then Congresswoman-elect Gabby Giffords. On the night of her own general election victory, she went out of her way to praise my legislative campaign effort. She insisted that I would run again, win and that we would serve southern Arizona together! At the time, I had no intention of running again, but Gabby recognized something in me that prompted her to make such a prediction! I look up to her as a role model for her activism in Southern Arizona politics, for her effective constituent advocacy, and especially for her tenacity and strength in the face of extreme adversity.

For more about Matt’s campaign, visit https://www.heinzforarizona.com.

This interview was conducted by Alex Sinclair Lack for RunWithPride.org. If you’d like to help us in the fight for equality, click here.

 

 
Alex Sinclair Lack