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February 09, 2023

‘We’re on the cusp of miracle cures’

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) is concerned about how health care spending is driving the increase in the national debt.

And as co-chair of the Telehealth Caucus and chair of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, he’s well positioned to draw attention to those concerns.

Schweikert thinks technology and innovation can help bring down costs. But he’s worried that Washington’s tendency to protect entrenched interests could get in the way.

Ben caught up with Schweikert in his Capitol Hill office to discuss how technology can become a bigger part of health care delivery and his plans as subcommittee chair.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are you most excited about in health care right now?

It’s the possibility that we would align policy with cures and the financing and disruption — it could have major effects on future debt.

We’re on the cusp of miracle cures — a potential cure for diabetes with stem cells.

A few years ago, there were hearings about how liver transplant hospitals were going to have to be built because of hepatitis C. Then all of a sudden, a drug comes out and it’s outrageously expensive. But then another competitor came out and crashed the price. The solution was the ability to get that into the population quickly. How do you adopt that as a model?

You have said you want to do oversight on Medicare. What might that look like?

Right now, we send durable medical equipment providers to drop off oxygen tanks. [Those providers] are very good, professional and really expensive. Why couldn’t that oxygen tank have been tossed in the back of a Lyft and dropped off for $12? How do I add technology and modern practices to disrupt that cost?

What’s next for telehealth after passing extensions in the omnibus?

Updating the definition of what telehealth is. Imagine if I have a smartwatch, and it’s watching my temperature and heart rhythm, and it gives me an avatar that looks like whoever my favorite television doctor is.

I have a conversation with the avatar saying, “Can you analyze the data coming off my body? What’s wrong with me?”

Do you allow it to write the script?

Just starting to think of that as the future of telehealth is a revolution.

Do you think people will like that?

People will love it. Telehealth was one of the most lobbied-against policies on Capitol Hill for years and years. “Grandma won’t be able to work FaceTime,” they’d say. Turns out Grandma knew how to work FaceTime.

What can Congress do to accelerate that?

Stop being afraid of it. Because when you start to talk about how my doctor could be an avatar, you now have an army of lobbyists who are going to come and be really cranky with you.

DEA says it’s coming out with a rule on virtual prescribing soon. Is there something you’d like to see from that?

I really wish DEA, FDA, CMS and those on the policymaking side would sit around the table and understand each party’s concern. CMS is concerned about billing fraud. DEA is concerned about prescription abuse. FDA is concerned about efficacy and misuse. Republicans, Democrats and interested parties need to sit around a table and say: “Here’s the problem. What do we do to fix it?”

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