Arizona Republican With A Diabetes ‘Fixation' Voted Against Out
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Arizona Republican With A Diabetes ‘Fixation' Voted Against Out

Aug 08, 2023

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) has what he describes as a “fixation” on how the disease of diabetes is affecting the United States.

Late last month, Schweikert made federal health care spending on diabetes the focus of a speech on the House floor about tackling the national debt.

The following day, at a congressional hearing on the economic effects of diabetes, Schweikert expressed hope that reducing the rates of diabetes and finding better treatments could be priorities that unite Democrats and Republicans.

“Maybe there’s a moment here, where this is not Republican or Democrat, right or left,” said Schweikert, who is vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, the two-chamber panel that convened the hearing. “It’s actually focusing on what’s going on in our society and our moral obligation to find a way to end this misery.”

But Schweikert’s lofty rhetoric is at odds with aspects of his record. In the last Congress, Schweikert voted against a bipartisan bill that would have provided relief for diabetes patients struggling to afford insulin, a hormone that allows people to regulate their blood sugar.

Insulin, which scientists first isolated and used to treat diabetes in the early 1920s, is generally not patented. But because insulin production is controlled by just three companies, the price tripled in the past two decades, causing 1 in 4 Americans with diabetes to ration their supply.

In March 2022, the House, then under Democratic control, passed the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which would have capped Medicare and private insurance enrollees’ monthly out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35. Twelve Republicans joined all House Democrats to vote in favor of the bill, but Schweikert was not one of them.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) represents a Phoenix-area seat that Democrats hope to flip in 2024.

The House bill, as written, did not become law. But in August 2022, President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included a scaled-down version of the provision, which capped monthly out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 for Medicare beneficiaries. Schweikert voted against that as well.

Those votes have become fodder for Democratic attacks against Schweikert, who represents a Phoenix-area district where voters narrowly favored Biden over then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has made ousting Schweikert a priority in the 2024 election cycle.

“David Schweikert spends his days in Congress insincerely lecturing about issues affecting millions of Americans, then votes against legislation that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 per month,” Justin Chermol, a DCCC spokesperson, said in a statement. “For David Schweikert: it’s all talk, no solutions.”

Schweikert opposed the insulin cap bill because it does nothing to reduce the underlying cost of insulin, according to Schweikert spokesperson Hunter Lovell. Instead, Schweikert is interested in lifting barriers that face new market entrants, such as the nonprofit drugmaker Civic Rx, which is planning to sell insulin for $30 a vial.

“By passing the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats handed Big Pharma billions in subsidies to buy down the price of insulin, while ignoring market competition to drive down the cost of prescription drug prices,” Lovell said in a statement. “With most insulin being off patent now, the solution to bring down costs shouldn’t be a command-and-control rationing model, but actually a market supply model of encouraging more companies to invest in the manufacturing business.”

To be sure, Schweikert is not alone in this particular criticism. Following passage of the House bill, the centrist Center for a Responsible Federal Budget lamented that capping out-of-pocket costs on insulin without addressing the underlying price amounts to cost shifting that “would be more than offset by higher premiums and taxpayer costs.”

Some progressive proponents of top-down price controls have also criticized the insulin provisions in the IRA for failing to get at underlying costs, as well as the inapplicability of the law to private health insurance enrollees and the uninsured. These progressives have instead rallied behind the Insulin for All Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would bar drugmakers from selling insulin for more than $20 a vial.

But another component of the IRA directly addressed the underlying cost of drugs by empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs and biologics ― though not insulin ― for the first time since the program began covering those treatments two decades ago. Schweikert nonetheless had nothing good to say about the entire bill.

As for Schweikert’s plans to encourage competition among drugmakers, his proposals remain relatively broad.

In his portion of the Joint Economic Committee’s annual report this year, Schweikert floats the idea of expediting federal approval for generic drugs and reducing the role of third-party pharmacy benefit managers to give consumers greater power.

He has not yet introduced legislation to effect these changes.