House Dems in new seats of power will steer health pol­icy, at­tack drug prices

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION/WORLD - By Em­marie Huet­te­man

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.

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