Heather Kilpatrick challenging Barry Loudermilk; campaign focused on healthcare issues

Headshot photo of Heather KilpatrickHeather Kilpatrick (photo courtesy of Heather Kilpatrick)

by Rebecca Gaunt

Democrat Heather Kilpatrick hopes to unseat Republican Barry Loudermilk in the 2022 election for Georgia’s 11th Congressional District.

Kilpatrick will first face the Democratic primary. If she wins the primary, she will move on to the general election. Georgia primaries will take place May 24, 2022. The healthcare professional told the Courier her 20 years of experience in the industry is key to effecting change.

Loudermilk was first elected in 2014. The district covers parts of Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb and Fulton Counties, including portions of Cartersville, Kennesaw, Marietta, Woodstock, and Atlanta.

The Courier conducted a Q&A with Kilpatrick via email, presented below:

Tell readers about yourself.

I’ve lived in Georgia my whole life, starting in the Snellville area and moving to Woodstock. I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations from Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, and a dual-Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Healthcare Administration from South University in Savannah.

I have 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry and have also obtained a multitude of certifications which have uniquely qualified me to understand the issues facing the district and beyond. These certifications include: Certified Medical Practice Executive, Crisis Prevention and Intervention Certification, Certified Medical Coding Specialist, Certified Mental Health Coding Specialist, Certified HIPAA Privacy Specialist, and CPR / First Aid Certification.

When I was 15 years old, I began a long career in health care at a local Eckerd drug store in Snellville as a pharmacy technician. In 2010, I helped a local psychiatrist launch Life Healing Center as director of operations and management. In 2018, I became the director of operations for AlphaCord/CryoChoice in Atlanta. My career across health care has included a broad range of specialties, from pharmacy and orthopedics to long term care and mental health.

I have an identical twin sister and an older brother. My mother is a procurement manager in Suwanee and my stepfather is a retired rocket scientist. My father is a real estate agent in Loganville, and my stepmother is a retired teacher. I am also an incredibly proud auntie to three nephews, to whom I often refer to as my “dudes,” and a mother to two greyhounds, Jedi and Sheldon. I am also in a long-term relationship with my amazing partner, Scott, with whom I share a corgi, Lilly.

Why have you thrown your hat in the ring for the 11th district House seat?

I am running because now is the time for women in health care to step up to the plate and speak for the people of Georgia. People who deserve robust and affordable health care, including access to mental healthcare, addiction treatment, LGBTQ+, and women’s reproductive care. My experience as a healthcare professional, as well as my experience as a woman living with chronic illness, uniquely qualifies me to understand the issues facing everyday Americans, and how to fix them. I am running because now is the time for competency, empathy, and hard-work.

Barry Loudermilk has held the seat since 2015. What are your thoughts on his tenure?

Barry Loudermilk has failed his constituency from the first moment he was elected to office. His voting record ignores the district’s most pressing issues, including access to affordable healthcare, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and environmental cleanliness. While he has consistently voted with the Sedition Caucus, he also continues to pal-around with personalities such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Duggar, an alleged child sex offender. Not only do his actions not reflect the needs of his constituents, they are openly antithetical to them.

Loudermilk introduced a bill this month to end federal unemployment subsidies, saying not enough people are getting back to work because the government is paying them more to stay home. What are your thoughts on this?

Representative Loudermilk has chosen to ignore the fact that COVID-19 is not yet under control. There are not any federal moratoriums in place mandating workplace safety for COVID and vaccination remains optional.

People don’t want to live off unemployment. I have been there, and it sucks. Not to mention, it is a federal law to report if you have turned down work and if you have, you lose unemployment. Another fact that Barry and the GOP deliberately ignore.

People are scared. They can’t afford to get sick because they don’t have access to care because of an overworked, understaffed and exhausted health care system. The risk is too great. That is not a worker problem. It is a healthcare problem.

Rep. Loudermilk has voted time and again to take away rights to health care and enough is enough.

You mention on your website that you deal with chronic illnesses. What has been your experience with the Affordable Care Act, what is working and what can be done to improve it?

I am very thankful for the ACA and to have coverage. I do have chronic illnesses and pre-existing conditions and my employer does not offer insurance. My experience, however, is that it is very expensive for coverage because I do have pre-existing illnesses. I also have very limited choices in coverage options, which I feel is very unfair to those in my situation. I feel like there is a lot of room for improvement; better protections for pre-existing conditions, caps on premiums, coverage mandates that ensure coverage for mental health, maternity, etc. These protections were in place prior to Trump. We need experienced people with a real knowledge of health care to make the changes necessary to make a difference for the people of America.

I do agree with the subsidies that have been put in place to assist many Americans with the American Rescue Plan. It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to put this plan into place to help with coverage payments, but that is a different issue. However, with these subsidies, there is still a salary cap and I truly believe that is unfair. Health insurance is a right, not a privilege. Regardless of your income, your age, race, religion, illnesses happen that cause pre-existing conditions that can severely increase your premiums and that is unfair. You could have a pre-existing condition that is completely managed and under control but simply because that diagnosis is listed your premiums go through the roof – we need to work on that.

Healthcare is one of your top three issues. What are your biggest goals in that area, should you be elected?

All Americans, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, or medical history, deserve the right to health, the right to life, and freedom from discrimination. Better access to health care can still be achieved as well as a more transparent, inclusive, comprehensive care structure. Expanded access begins with greater provider network coverage. This means streamlining credentialing practices for physicians, nurses, therapists, and other healthcare personnel.

Government regulation over the pharmaceutical industry is needed to provide transparency of drug pricing and to put an end to the ridiculous prior authorization rules. Physicians and nurse practitioners should be guiding a patient’s care and treatment, not an insurance company.

Healthcare must also address the needs of the most unserved and vulnerable, including providing for all of women’s health, LGTBQ+ inclusion of care, eldercare, and mental health treatment. Women’s healthcare rights go beyond reproductive issues. The concerns of women have been hijacked and used as a political talking point. Women need access to proper gynecological care, contraception, proper prenatal care, adequate maternal consideration including postpartum care and cancer screenings.

Dental and vision care should be included in medical care and just as comprehensive. Your dental hygiene impacts your health significantly; yet the cost of dental care is absurd. So people go without, which in turn negatively impacts their physical health. It is a vicious circle.

Vision care is a necessity. I wear glasses and contacts and the cost is abominable. I depend on my glasses and contacts so I am forced to pay the price just like everyone else in my position. It should not be this way. Your eye health is important to physical health and we are dependent on our glasses and contacts. We shouldn’t be taken advantage of because we are dependent on aides to see properly. Same goes for hearing devices. All these things should have comprehensive coverage without question.

Disability services vary greatly from state to state. In Georgia, people can spend years on waitlists and only a few slots are available each year. Is there anything that can be done at the federal level to improve the situation?

We need better infrastructure in place to handle these cases. Especially now, as people are experiencing long term effects of COVID. The process I have witnessed with disability cases is that if it doesn’t meet a certain threshold in case severity, based on that particular case manager’s perspective, it gets denied with no review or investigation. It should not work like that, but due to an overburdened system, it often does. We need a lot of people in place that have the knowledge, education, and experience to handle these cases and each person’s particular needs. This requires federal oversight because states are too overburdened to manage it. Not to mention, federal oversight tends to have more regulation behind it and more people following those regulations. It would also include federal funding, which is imperative. It also requires regular review because the sad reality is that people do abuse the system.

Why do you support President Biden’s American Jobs Plan?

The American Jobs Plan addresses the most pressing needs relating to infrastructure and creates tens of thousands of jobs for Americans who need it most. Large investments would be made in building sustainable buildings, roads, and technologies. These are issues of particular importance to my constituents who struggle with joblessness and crumbling infrastructure. In many rural parts of the district, massive reconstruction is needed to maintain highly traveled roads and bridges. The American Jobs Plan could put thousands to work, in well-paying positions, and address our infrastructure.

Why do you believe guaranteed paid leave is important for Americans?

In most first-world nations, workers are guaranteed a substantial amount of paid leave for many reasons. The US is already late in adopting this policy. Maternal and paternal leave, for instance, are not federally required, which leads to employers allowing the leave, but without pay. This creates significant financial burdens on new parents, adding to the already overwhelming changes that come with childbirth. Guaranteed paid leave for this, as well as family illnesses, vacation time, mental health, etc, ensures every American will not be left bankrupt when hit with unexpected time off.

This also allows for the essential time for our minds and bodies to get the much-needed time to rest and recover after so many life events. It is the constant stress and go-go-go without a break that is causing so much of the mental breaks, stress-induced heart attacks and strokes that cause longer term illnesses and lasting effects. Our healthcare system is a reactionary treatment-based system instead of a prevention-based system. If we gave workers more time off to recover with pay, it would assist the healthcare industry in moving to this model of care.

On your website, you say increasing corporate regulations is an important step to overcome damage being done to the planet. Can you tell the readers more about what needs to be done?

Georgia District 11 is home to Plant Bowen, a coal-burning power plant which emits large amounts of boron into the groundwater, and many pollutants into the air. Strong legislation is needed to undo the damage done to our air and water by the irresponsible stewardship of profit-focused energy conglomerates. I would propose increased federal oversight over energy producers to determine if the waste from their production is harmful to the environment and surrounding communities.

How do you intend to tackle the pharmaceutical industry with regard to pricing transparency and prior authorization requirements?

The pharmaceutical industry needs more than just FDA regulation. We saw in the previous administration just how easily the FDA can be manipulated and that is a problem. We need an independent oversight board in place to monitor these things. This board should watch market fluctuations that influence pharma companies to change their pricing structures. Brand new drugs costing thousands per month is extreme for all but the rarest lifesaving treatments. These drugs do not cost that much to make. The pharma companies are taking advantage of people needing treatment and are preying on them for profit. An oversight board could put caps on such things. This would also involve oversight of pharmacies and insurance companies because these are what drive up costs. We also need physician-driven, rather than insurance-driven care, which is what drives prior authorizations. A physician dictates a plan of care, yet administrative personnel at the insurance company can choose to override it and force alternate medications. This is part of why we are a reactive treatment healthcare model instead of a proactive treatment model. Healthcare has become a tool of making money instead of a way to care for people.

What lessons do you hope have been learned from the COVID-19 pandemic?

I hope the primary lesson that we have learned is how important science, medicine and research is to everyone worldwide. I hope we have learned how important hygiene and cleanliness are. I hope we have learned kindness and helping one’s neighbor and the importance of essential workers. I sincerely hope we have learned the value of healthcare. I feel that it is often neglected or taken for granted, even the medical science and public health piece. I also hope we have learned the value of community and family.

What steps should be taken to curb gun violence?

In the wake of the Atlanta spa murders, when Robert Aaron Long was able to buy a gun in Atlanta and then murder 8 people with it the same day, it is clear that we have to have uniform background check and waiting period policies. There needs to be legislation to create a national standard for who can buy a gun and when. Sponsors and cosponsors of weapons ban bills also commonly include as many as 2200 specific exemptions on weaponry that will perform the same way as the banned guns, but without the scarier, action-movie aesthetic qualities. If I’m sent to the House to represent Georgia’s 11th, and such a bill crosses my desk, I won’t be the one to hold it up, but I feel like voters in Georgia and across the country would be more appreciative of transparency of purpose in any gun-control legislation, and the same ends could be achieved by focusing on bump-stocks, 100-round drum magazines and specialty ammunition rather than writing up bills enumerating the individual guns that House Democrats approve of by name.

What are your thoughts on the BLM movement and calls for police reform?

Black men and women in this country continue to be unfairly targeted by law enforcement. This is reinforced, year-after-year, by decades of data and statistics. The BLM movement is this decade’s iteration of the civil rights movement and are deserving of all of our support. Every march, every protest, every sign raised in opposition to these men and women being killed is justified. And as the next Congressperson of GA-11, I would listen to their pleas and work tirelessly to enact legislation to protect them.

I would reduce the role of police in addressing societal problems. This would end police involvement in enforcement of immigration laws, police presence in schools, and involvement with people in a mental health crisis. I would suggest increased funding to develop unarmed social services officers for non-violent interactions. I would push for increased accountability and transparency. Infractions should be investigated by accountability systems within the community. This would include improved data collection, a federal database for excessive force and on-the-job deaths as well as stop-and-frisk. I would also push for improvement of use-of-force policies and training, specifically to prohibit use of neck holds, head strikes, and force against handcuffed persons. There should also be increased training in conflict mediation and de-escalation tactics.

What have we not talked about that is important for voters to know about you?

Women’s healthcare is an issue that I am very passionate about both as a woman and as a healthcare professional. Many people think of women’s healthcare as being whether to continue a pregnancy, but that is only a very small piece of it. Pregnancy includes many things such as proper prenatal care and postpartum care. It includes regular obstetrical care including for high-risk and multiple pregnancies. This also includes hospitalizations resulting from those same high-risk pregnancies and NICU stays. This includes the parenting classes, education on CPR for infants, breastfeeding education, etc. I could keep going for a long time, but I think I’ve made my point.

The campaign website can be found here.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.