Rep. Ruiz was a virtually unknown candidate and defeated then incumbent Mary Bono, R-CA, for the seat that represents Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Rep. Ruiz is the son of migrant farmers from Mexico who went on to medical school and became the first Latino to receive three graduate degrees from Harvard — a medical degree, a masters of public policy, and a masters of public health. Rep. Ruiz is an emergency physician by training and AGA got to know him early in his congressional career and provided support for his initiatives that aligned with our policy priorities and support through AGA PAC.
When Rep. Ruiz was elected to Congress, the Democrats were in the minority in the House and as a freshman member in the minority, did not yield a lot of power and influence. However, AGA continued to work with Rep. Ruiz in garnering his support for repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) that was created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — it was charged with making budgetary decisions for the Medicare program that would have disproportionately impacted physicians. Rep. Ruiz was willing to work with Republicans to support legislation to repeal IPAB; Congress eventually repealed it in the last Congress.
AGA also worked with Rep. Ruiz in support of increasing access to colorectal cancer screening especially for underrepresented minorities and he has been a strong supporter of the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act that would fix the current Medicare screening colonoscopy coinsurance problem that disproportionately impacts poorer Medicare beneficiaries who lack supplemental coverage.
Recently, AGA has been working closely with Rep. Ruiz as he champions an issue that impacts GI patients with inflammatory bowel disease and their ability to access the treatment that their doctor recommends. Rep. Ruiz has introduced H.R. 2279, the Safe Step Act, legislation that would provide a clear, transparent, and easily accessible appeals process for physicians and their patients when subject to step therapy protocols. Step therapy, also known as “fail first,” requires patients to try and fail one or more medications before the insurer will provide coverage for the therapy that their doctor thinks is the best to manage their condition. The Safe Step Act would not eliminate step therapy but would provide some common sense guardrails for patients and reasonable exceptions for patients who would be harmed if subjected to such a policy.
Because of AGA PAC’s and other physician organizations’ PAC support for Rep. Ruiz, he was able to secure a seat on the highly coveted Energy and Commerce Committee and its Health Subcommittee. The Committee has jurisdiction over all public health programs such as NIH, CDC, FDA, and Medicare Part B which is all physician services. Given Rep. Ruiz’s background and the committee position he holds, he is well-suited to continue to help champion AGA’s policy priorities and those of all organized medicine.
Over the years, Rep. Ruiz has spoken to AGA members at our annual Advocacy Day on the importance of physicians being involved politically and also in advocacy. He has also met with AGA Government Affairs Committee member Gaurav Singhvi, MD, in the district on issues important to the gastroenterology community and our patients.
AGA looks forward to working with Rep. Ruiz to continue to ensure that patients have access to specialty care, that the administrative burdens that physicians face like prior authorization are reduced, we continue to invest in research, and that we continue to train the next generation of GIs.