House Dems in new seats of power will steer health policy, attack drug prices
WASHINGTON — For the first time since passing the Affordable Care Act, Democrats will soon control the House of Representatives and its powerful health committees. But Republicans’ tightened grip on the Senate means those hoping for another round of dramatic, progressive reforms may be disappointed.
Empowered by voters outraged over Republican attempts to chip away at the law’s protections for the sick, Democrats owe much of their midterm takeback to health care issues. And Democratic leaders say they are ready to get back to work, this time training their sights on skyrocketing drug prices, among other policy conundrums, with a majority of House votes and a slate of new committee chairmanships in hand.
In a few weeks, House Democrats will meet to elect their leaders, including several committee chairs who will be responsible for the nation’s health care policy and spending in the coming years. Hill denizens expect those currently serving as the top Democrat on most House committees to ascend to the chairmanships, with few if any members mounting serious challenges.
Those basking in a post"blue wave" glow would do well to temper their expectations, recalling that the Republican-controlled House had already voted 54 times to unravel some or all of the Affordable Care Act by its fourth birthday in 2014. In most cases, Democrats in the Senate and White House stopped those efforts in their tracks.
With the Senate (and the presidency) remaining under Republican control and even fewer moderate Republicans left in the House after this election, Democrats will struggle to move legislation without Republican support. What they can do is hold hearings, launch investigations and generally unnerve the pharmaceutical industry, among other likely adversaries.
And there’s a chance they could strike a deal with President Donald Trump, whose administration is moving to crack down on drug companies.
Who are the members most likely to wield the gavels? And what will they do with that power? Here’s a look at some of the major committees that influence health policy — and the people who may lead them.
—The Committee of Energy and Commerce, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey
Pallone, who has served in the House for 30 years, became the top Democrat on this influential committee in 2015. Should he become chairman, he would be responsible for the broadest health portfolio in the House, which includes Medicaid, public health, insurance and drug safety. This is the committee that marked up the Affordable Care Act in 2009 (when Pallone chaired the health subcommittee) and the House Republican repeal effort in 2017.
Under the Trump administration, Pallone has touted his stewardship of bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the fees charged to manufacturers to review the safety of prescription drugs and medical devices. He has also called for hearings on "megamergers" like the proposed merger between CVS and Aetna and worked with other Democrats to counter Republican attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
Unsurprisingly, his influence over health care issues has attracted a lot of money from pharmaceutical companies, health professionals, HMOs and other industry players. By mid-October, Pallone had received more than $945,000 in campaign contributions from the health sector for this election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. According to a KHN analysis, nearly $170,000 came from political action committees associated with pharmaceutical companies.