MJ Hegar’s current role as chief patient advocate with Hippo follows a progression of roles of her putting community first.
By Anna Lassmann, Photos courtesy of MJ Hegar
From serving with valor in the military to boldly running for Congress against a longtime incumbent and now working as the chief patient advocate for health-care-focused Hippo, MJ Hegar has always put others before herself. Hegar says such selfless choices stem from her sometimes tumultuous childhood. Hegar’s biological father was abusive toward her mother and sister, and she often felt helpless as a young child witnessing this abuse. She has since vowed never to let herself—or others—feel that helpless.
“I do believe in servant leadership,” Hegar says. “I do believe in putting my community first. But it’s really something that empowers me and makes me feel independent and strong and like I won’t be hurt because I’m able to fight and advocate for others.”
Her most current advocacy work is with Hippo, a technology platform that works to save consumers as much as 97 percent on their prescription medications. In her role, Hegar works with consumers to build testimonials and spread the word, and advocates for patients instead of revenue in meetings with the company’s leadership.
Recently, members of the leadership team at Hippo were considering making technology improvements to the app, but Hegar suggested they should focus their time on serving vulnerable populations, including immigrants and people fleeing domestic-violence situations—an aspiration that wouldn’t be profitable for the company. Despite that concern, the leadership listened to her.
“By helping people, the company stopped with the revenue-generating portions of their application improvements and focused on [helping] people,” Hegar says. “The fact that they hired me to advocate for patients and the fact that they listen when I bring things to the table really speaks volumes about the leadership at the company.”
Through her work with Hippo, Hegar hopes to make the company more accessible and widely known. If Americans are more informed about pharmaceutical pricing, they will be able to make the greatest difference in the affordability of health care, she says.
“The American consumer, as they are armed with information and empowered and they are given choices, then they can make the biggest difference,” Hegar says. “And right now, the American consumer doesn’t have any idea how pharmaceutical pricing works. … With Hippo, they can go on and find out how much is the absolute most they will spend. … [The pricing] is really confusing for consumers, and Hippo empowers consumers.”
Before beginning her role at Hippo, Hegar ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Texas’ 31st Congressional District last fall. The principles that Hippo is founded on were present in her campaign platform, which included lowering prescription-drug costs and making health care more affordable for all.
“On the campaign trail, I met people whose loved ones were literally dying—and I had a family member die—because they couldn’t afford to take their prescriptions,” Hegar says. “Something that seems mundane, like blood-pressure medicine, is actually lifesaving medicine. We think of lifesaving medicine as like the emergency room, but not being able to afford prescriptions reduces life spans and shortens the quality of life.”
While Hegar didn’t win her 2018 bid for Congress, she recently announced she plans to run next year for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
“I feel a responsibility to put my talents to the highest possible level of service for my country,” Hegar says. “I have to look at what’s best for my family and what’s best for my country and my state.”
Hegar is confident in her chances at a Senate run after her 2018 campaign, during which she put up a fight in a traditionally Republican-held district. She also points to her time with the Air Force, serving three tours in Afghanistan, for one of which she received the Purple Heart award for sustaining injuries yet still protecting those she was ferrying after her helicopter was shot down.
Hegar began her military career when she joined the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft maintenance officer after her experience with the ROTC at the University of Texas. She was later selected for pilot training by the Air National Guard and then spent seven years as a search and rescue pilot.
“I had a healthy level of adrenaline addiction mixed with a strong desire to serve my country,” Hegar says. “Texas is a very military-friendly state and I was raised here, so I was just very patriotic and wanted to find a job that I loved and that I felt like was serving others.”
Both the military and politics are male-dominated fields, but that hasn’t stopped Hegar’s success. She even advocated to overturn the discriminatory ground combat exclusion policy, which led to the military opening all ground-combat jobs to women.
“It sounds corny, but things are only impossible until they’re not,” Hegar says. “The idea that…women can’t do pullups until women started doing pullups and then all of a sudden, we can, [and] women can’t be pilots, things like that. I just feel like we accept these limitations on what’s possible and we govern our actions on them. The greatest limitation is when you think you can’t do something.”