Doctor’s Stance Against Federal Healthcare Law Prompts Senate Run

Andrew Kitchenman | June 12, 2013 | Health Care
Eck argues that Medicaid could be replaced with clinics staffed by doctors who volunteer four hours a week

Dr. Alieta Eck has her eye on the GOP Senate slot.
Alieta Eck is putting her medical experience and positions on healthcare at the center of her campaign for U.S. Senate.

Eck, an internal medicine doctor, wants to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act and replace Medicaid with state-based programs, including one detailed in a New Jersey bill she supports that would provide doctors with immunity from malpractice suits if they volunteer time to serve needy patients.

Eck yesterday cited this bill (S-2231) as an example of differences between herself and Steve Lonegan, her rival for the Republican nomination to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

“I’ve reached out to Steve Lonegan, who I think would be a natural proponent of such a commonsense plan, but he’s never latched onto it,” Eck said. “He’s never even said that it would be a commonsense idea.”

Lonegan said yesterday that he does support the bill, but he wasn’t able to consider the issue earlier this year when Eck sought his support, adding that no legislative committees have discussed the bill.

“I respect Alieta Eck — we both believe in the same thing” regarding the bill, Lonegan said, before predicting, “We’ll have a respectful campaign.”

Eck said she was inspired to run after receiving a call from a colleague in the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a national organization for which she served as president last year.

“One week ago I had no idea that I would be doing this,” Eck said. “It’s not something that was my heartfelt aspiration.”

Eck said she plans to raise campaign funds from fellow doctors who oppose President Barack Obama’s approach to healthcare. The AAPS, founded in 1943 to oppose federal intervention in healthcare, has connected her with a national network that shares her views, she said.

At the core of her vision for healthcare is a model similar to the Zarephath Health Center, the free clinic she founded with her husband Dr. John Eck. Instead of the current Medicaid system that funds healthcare for the poor, Eck said poor patients could be served by free clinics.

“It’s not just that I’m against Obamacare and not that I’m just going to grouse about Medicaid, I have a positive solution,” Eck said.

But Eck doesn’t support a national system of free clinics. Instead, healthcare should be handled in each state, she said. The New Jersey bill would provide protection from medical liability lawsuits in return for doctors volunteering at free clinics for four hours per week.

“The federal government shouldn’t be doing healthcare — it’s just too remote,” Eck said.

Eck fears that the ACA will encroach on the relationship between doctors and patients.

“We’re being treated as groups and as a collective — healthcare is becoming something that’s mechanized and less personal,” Eck said. “They will tell how we can practice and who we can see, and it will not be good for patients and for physicians.”

Eck said her campaign would appeal to residents of both major political parties, adding that she didn’t think Lonegan’s message “is enough to energize the voters in a blue state.”

When asked for her position on issues outside of healthcare, Eck said she supports school choice and to stop “meddling” in other nations’ affairs.

“Nation-building is not the job of our military,” Eck said, noting that the Chinese government doesn’t keep a network of overseas military bases.

She feels that what she describes as the “career politicians” in Washington have created a legislative logjam.

She said that as New Jersey’s first woman senator, she would take an approach of “let’s solve the problems together and not just fight. I’m comfortable talking to government officials. I would just treat them as colleagues, and we would work together to just make the federal government smaller and return it to the constitutional principals of limited federal government.”

Eck has five children who range in age from 21 to 33. She lives in Franklin Township and is a lifelong New Jersey resident except for her medical school years, when she attended St. Louis School of Medicine in Missouri.

“I love this state,” Eck said. “We have to fix it.”

She also is a member of Zarephath Christian Church, a part of the small Pillar of Fire denomination, an offshoot of Methodism.

“Biblical principles are very important to me, and the story of the Good Samaritan has inspired us to care for the people ourselves rather than expect others to do it,” she said.

She also participates in Christian Care Medi-Share, a ministry-based healthcare cost-sharing program whose members are exempt from the ACA’s mandates under an exemption written into the law.

Eck was careful in describing her thoughts on Gov. Chris Christie’s performance, which she described as “mixed.”

“He’s tackled some of the tough issues,” Eck said. “I was hoping our property taxes would go down.”

She said that the federal government causes many of the state’s problems.

“It’s still hard to live in New Jersey — that’s all I can say,” Eck said. “The young people are leaving.”

Eck has gained the support of the Bayshore Tea Party and Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine, but Lonegan has raced ahead in gaining Republican county party endorsements. Eck also said she has the support of former Jersey City mayor and state education commissioner Bret Schundler, who couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

Eck said she still hasn’t taken some steps, including writing down all of her campaign issue positions and hiring a campaign manager.

“We have no well-oiled machine, but we have lot of grassroots support that is welling up,” Eck said, adding that she planned to visit a bank later in the day to set up a campaign account.