Arizona races focus on health care expansion

Arizona’s political races are attracting national attention as both Republicans and Democrats try to wrest control of a state that used to be comfortably in GOP hands. But heading into the Nov. 3 election, Democrats holds five of the nine congressional seats.

Health care is a hinge issue in many key races as many Democrats lobby for the expansion of government sponsored health care while Republicans try to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.


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Health care weighs especially heavy in the race for the U.S. Senate, where incumbent Republican Martha McSally touts her accomplishments in driving down prescription drug prices.  Her Democratic opponent Mark Kelly draws on his personal experience to push for health care for all.

We are looking at several races in Arizona, including the following:

U.S. Senate: McSally, who was appointed in 2018 to replace John McCain, is considered vulnerable for her attacks on the Affordable Care Act. Recently, she was targeted for her vote last fall not to overturn a Trump administration health care rule that could make it easier for insurance companies to sell policies that do not meet the minimum standards in the ACA. Her supporters point to her recent legislation aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs by promoting a more competitive and transparent market. McSally has also delayed cuts in Medicaid funding to community hospitals known as disproportionate share hospitals and secured funding extended funding for critical community health programs which support vulnerable populations, supporters say.

Kelly says that even with reforms to expand health care access, many of the 2.8 million Arizonans with pre-existing conditions still lack health coverage or are paying more out of pocket for doctor visits, deductibles, and especially prescription drugs. Kelly, a former astronaut, saw his wife, former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, nearly killed in a shooting. He also is a cancer survivor. His past, Kelly said, has prompted him to support a public health care option that would compete with private insurers and to take on the pharmaceutical industry to lower prescription drug prices.

McSally has been endorsed by National Right to Life. Kelly is supported by Planned Parenthood. McSally faces five opponents in the Republican primary while Kelly faces four on the Democratic side.

U.S. House District 1: Incumbent and former Republican Tom O’Halleran won the seat as a Democrat in 2016 and won again in 2018 with 54 percent of the vote. Recently he joined a bipartisan effort to prevent abuse at residential facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. He faces three opponents in the Aug. 4 primaries. Fellow Democrat Barbara McGuire says improving health care, especially in rural areas of the state, is a top priority. As a state senator, McGuire fought for a $43.3 million grant to improve precision medicine in Arizona.

Another primary opponent, Eva Putzova, is a former Flagstaff city councilwoman who helped approve Arizona’s first parental leave policy. She also backs universal health care for Arizonans.

U.S. House District 6: Incumbent Republican David Schweikert has held the seat since 2010 and does not face a primary opponent. But he is considered vulnerable by Democrats partly because of his votes against the ACA. Four Democrats are running  in the primary to win the right to face Schweikert. Anita Malik, a former tech company CEO, ran unsuccessfully in 2018. During the race, Malik’s husband developed brain abscesses which led to six separate surgeries. The couple ran up thousands in medical bills, Malik said. She supports universal health care along with an independent national health data repository that would share information across each state.

Another primary opponent is physician Hiral Tipirneni, who says the ACA should be revised and that more competition among private insurers will help drive down health care prices.

State races: Only six people have officially entered state legislative primaries as of Feb. 26. The filing deadline is April 6.

Two are facing off in the Democratic primary for House District 26:

Incumbent Athena Salman, first elected in 2016, authored a bill in 2018 that forced a policy change to provide feminine hygiene products to women in state prison.

Her opponent, Melody Hernandez, is a paramedic and provides medical aid to asylum seekers in the community.