American College of Radiology (ACR) member Stephen Ferrara, MD, former U.S. Navy chief medical officer, interventional radiologist and Afghanistan veteran, announced his candidacy for the Arizona 9th Congressional District seat last month. Ferrara answers questions about why he’s running for political office and how he intends to use” medical diplomacy” in Washington, DC.
Describe the response to your candidacy?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think there’s a real appetite throughout the electorate for a new brand of candidate interested in bipartisan problem solving rather than partisanship and obstructionism. As an interventional radiologist and a military officer, people know that I’m used to having to make decisions and stay on mission. They find that to be very refreshing these days.
How long have you planned to make this run?
I’ve been interested in public service my entire adult life, ever since joining the Navy when I was a college senior. As I gained greater experience and wisdom as a physician, however, I became much more focused on opportunities to help more than just one person at a time. That perspective, coupled with my Navy experiences during three deployments around the world, gave me a unique insight into what makes America exceptional. I would say the seeds of this campaign took root in 2005 while I was participating in the Asian tsunami relief effort. That’s when I first came to understand the potential of medical diplomacy and knew I needed to stay involved.
As an interventional radiologist and retired Navy medical officer, what unique perspectives would you bring to the job?
The most obvious qualities are that both of those roles require decisiveness and innovation. In both capacities one has to be a problem solver and work as a member of a team. In the Navy we’re all part of a crew that works together to accomplish the mission. Each person’s contribution is highly valued and their input is actively sought. My first operational tour was with the Marine Corps, and that was where I really imprinted on their selfless style of leadership. The Marines practiced servant leadership before it was a business school term, and they developed it over centuries of having to overcome incredible challenges in chaotic environments. That is the leadership style that representative government should be built around. Similarly, when doing an interventional radiology procedure there are often unique or never-before-seen obstacles. We’re often the “specialty of last resort” for patients who are otherwise out of options. We thrive on those challenges and rather than be deterred, we are inspired by the art of the possible.
Describe your experience as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow on Capitol Hill.
People tell you ahead of time that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellowship will change your life. It’s true. I learned more about health care than I ever thought possible, but more importantly, I gained mentorship from some of the nation’s finest leaders including my bosses on the Energy and Commerce Committee: Chairman Fred Upton, House Subcommittee Chair and Vice-Chair Joe Pitts and Michael Burgess, MD. It was their leadership that showed me that great things could still happen in a bipartisan manner. We worked each day with Henry Waxman’s team to hammer out compromises on the legislative language that was to become MACRA, an elective item passed in a bipartisan vote that repealed SGR and secured Medicare for a generation. That experience cinched it for me that Congress is a place where anything really is still possible.
What positions on issues will you emphasize during the campaign?
The country has so many challenges to talk about these days that it’s hard to keep this answer short. I’d say my top two, however, are health care and national security. I’ve spent full careers in each and believe that both are particularly prominent right now.
Health care is the major domestic issue of our time. It consumes 18 percent of our GDP to the cost of $3 trillion/year. We have to get a handle on it. Not just for economic reasons, but because it affects each American very personally. In addition to ensuring that all Americans have access to quality and affordable care, health care bills are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America. The system is not sustainable in its current form. As we wrestle with ways to update the health care system, it’s critical that we have more doctors at the table. I’m uniquely poised to positively shape this transformation as an active clinician and someone with a great depth of experience both in policy and in helping lead a large health care system: Navy medicine helps care for approximately 9.5 million beneficiaries across the world in a $50 billion program that is truly population-based and mission-focused.
Of course, national security is another issue extremely high on my priority list. During my 25 years on active duty, we were in sustained wars for 15 of them, and they continue today. We clearly need more veterans in Congress. The military is a tool, which like any other, needs to be used properly in order to be effective. That firsthand experience is lacking in Washington. Those in harm’s way need a strong advocate in Congress to ensure that their efforts and their lives are not squandered due to politicians’ lack of experience.
Who is your opposition and how do you rate your chances at winning?
We have a great chance of winning. The support has been overwhelming and people from both parties and independents alike are excited to have a moderate who is eager to work in a bipartisan way to solve problems and help regular Americans. I’m excited that my district is one of the few competitive districts in the country that hasn’t been gerrymandered to “safe blue” or “safe red.” That makes it far more reflective of where most people are in their points of view. It also helps that people trust their doctors. They know that we care for our communities each day without bias for patient’s background or economic circumstance. How many politicians have taken an oath to care for their communities? Let’s just say that voters are eager to upgrade.
The Republican primary for Ferrara is scheduled for August 28, 2018. Two other Republicans are vying for the same seat. The general election will be held on November 6, 2018. To learn more about Ferrara and the race, visit the RADPAC website.