The 2020 campaign in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District may have begun in earnest this week, when Rep. Pete Stauber seemed to undercut his Democratic opponent by announcing he’d penned insulin cost-reduction language onto Democratic legislation that would lower prescription drug costs.
The legislative maneuver addresses one of the core platform issues for leading Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party contender Quinn Nystrom, a lifelong diabetes advocate from Baxter, Minn.
"It's clear that all he cares about is trying to score political points and help his corporate donors," Nystrom told the News Tribune.
Stauber's office denied the claim, saying, "Congressman Stauber introduced this amendment because it was the right thing to do."
Insulin prices have soared in the United States over the past 20 years, with the out-of-pocket expense for a vial of insulin costing more than $300 — one of the highest figures in the world.
“Too often, I hear from Minnesotans who are struggling to cover the rising cost of insulin, which can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month,” Stauber, R-Hermantown, said in a news release on Tuesday. “As more and more individuals across the nation die from rationing insulin, I believe Members of Congress have a moral responsibility to act.”
Stauber’s amendment onto the Lower Drug Costs Now Act that was introduced this fall would pass insulin rebates, generally soaked up by middlemen, he said, onto Medicare customers. Were it to pass into legislation, Stauber’s amendment would take effect in 2022 and later study the impact of the legislative changes.
Nystrom, 33, criticized the timing of Stauber’s amendment.
“It’s sad that Congressman Pete Stauber needs someone to run against him to start looking into this issue,” Nystrom said. “It's clear that Pete never called anyone on the front lines of this epidemic before writing a bill for his buddies in the health insurance industry. His amendment only addresses people on Medicare. What about the people on high-deductible plans and the uninsured?”
Nystrom announced her candidacy in October, saying her decision was made, in part, because she’d been unable to schedule an annual roundtable involving the congressman to discuss the insulin topic. Stauber later held his own roundtable in Hermantown, where he was critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for making legislation aimed at reducing drug costs unpalatable to Republicans.
Stauber’s office denied that the congressman was out to score political points with his latest amendment, instead saying he was “completely focused on working for the people” of the district.
“He has heard from constituents from all over the district who have raised concerns over this serious issue,” spokesperson Kelsey Mix said Wednesday. “Congressman Stauber shares their concerns and believes that no Minnesotan with diabetes should ever have to go without this life-saving medication.”
Nystrom cited the deaths of three Minnesotans last summer from insulin rationing. If Stauber, 53, had been serious about helping, she said, he would have been one of the 58 cosponsors (all Democrats) to the Insulin For All Act, another 2019 piece of legislation that remains in committee in the House.
Nystrom has said she will not accept campaign fundraising donations from the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.
“A big thing for me is fighting for health care affordability and accessibility,” she said in an interview with the News Tribune earlier this month. “If I’m taking money from them my hands are tied. How hard am I going to fight them if they’re funding my campaign?”
For its part, Stauber’s office said, “(H)e will continue to focus on lowering the cost of healthcare, including insulin and other prescription drugs.”
Nystrom is the lone DFL candidate to formally announce a bid for Stauber’s 8th District seat, and has been endorsed by former Rep. Rick Nolan.