PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — U.S. Rep. John Joyce, a Republican who represents a very large district that touches a part of Westmoreland County, is a medical doctor.
Political editor Jon Delano sat down with Joyce during a visit to Pittsburgh and asked him how his medical background influences his work in Congress.
Thirty years ago, there were two doctors in the U.S. Congress. Today, there are 17, including 13 in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of them is Joyce, a dermatologist from Altoona.
Delano: "Is medicine the reason you wanted to go into Congress? It's not usual for doctors to take that path."
Joyce: "I ran for health care. When my wife and I attended the forums in my first campaign with eight candidates, no one addressed health care as their primary issue. Nobody addressed it as their top three issues as being a motivation to run."
Joyce represents 10 mostly rural counties where there are plenty of older individuals unable to get to a doctor easily. That's why he supported U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney's bill to extend the use of telemedicine under Medicare.
"They want to be able to make sure that their Medicare is able to be used and reimbursed for that telemedicine visit. And we were able successfully in a bipartisan manner that Medicare visits are continued to be paid for through the pandemic and for the next 24 months," said Joyce.
Of course, the key to that is access to broadband internet service, a challenge in many rural areas.
"It's something that we continue to advocate for. The funding is there, but we need to see that distribution of rural broadband access comes to the district," says Joyce.
President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill allocates $42 billion for broadband, including direct subsidies to help households afford broadband.
Another issue for Joyce is getting more physicians into Pennsylvania's rural counties. Joyce said he established a program to get young medical students into the rural areas, a program that gives him the greatest pride.
"We established a program that is now known as the Home Grown Health Care Initiative that would allow students in their third and fourth year of medical school to do the entirety of their training back in Pennsylvania, to establish those mentorships with hospitals where they might have been born," says the congressman.
In addition to his work on rural health care, Joyce is a strong conservative voice in Congress with equally strong views on abortion.
On Tuesday, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Legislature to outlaw all abortions in Kansas.
A similar amendment is now under consideration in Pennsylvania. It's a hot topic everywhere, and Joyce makes no apologies for his strong views against abortion rights.
"I'm a pro-life individual. I stand by that. Throughout my medical training, I declined to participate in abortions because I value the sanctity of human life," he says.
The congressman was asked about the constitutional amendment just voted down by Kansas.
The Pennsylvania Legislature has approved a similar amendment declaring that the state constitution does not protect abortion rights. If approved again by the Legislature, it will go to the voters here next year.
Delano: "Do you think there should be a constitutional amendment that would allow Pennsylvania to outlaw all abortions?"
Joyce: "I do."
Delano: "Without exception?"
Joyce: "I think there are exceptions, and the life of the mother is an exception, which is a religious exception, and I support that."
Whether Pennsylvania voters would approve or reject a constitutional amendment on the subject, Joyce says his views are both deeply personal and reflect the views of his constituents in the rural counties that stretch across southwestern Pennsylvania.
"As I've marched in Washington in pro-life rallies and pro-life marches, I've recognized the importance of that pro-life agenda for my constituents. And this is a representative republic, and they elected a strongly pro-life physician to represent them in the United States Congress."
No Democrat filed to run against Joyce in the 13th Congressional District, although former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz (D/Johnstown) did win the Democratic nomination on a write-in. He has not yet decided whether to accept that nomination.
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