House in hand, Dems to steer health pol­icy

Tampa Bay Times - - Nation & World - BY EMMARIE HUETTEMAN Kaiser Health News (TNS)

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 gains to health care is­sues. 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.

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.

Among the key Demo­cratic play­ers:

Rep. Frank Pal­lone of New Jersey, who has served in the House for 30 years, be­came the top Demo­crat on the in­flu­en­tial Com­mit­tee of En­ergy and Com­merce 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.

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings of Mary­land could prove the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try’s big­gest headache come next year. Hav­ing served as the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form since 2011, he has been champ­ing at the bit to hold drug­mak­ers ac­count­able.

The Com­mit­tee on Ways and Means over­sees Medi­care and in­flu­ences health pol­icy through its ju­ris­dic­tion over taxes. Rep. Richard Neal of Mas­sachusetts, who be­came the top Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee in 2017, has played a part in the craft­ing of both the Af­ford­able Care Act and the failed re­form ef­fort un­der the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion in 1993.

If cho­sen, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York would be­come the first woman to chair the pow­er­ful House Com­mit­tee on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions, hold­ing the na­tion’s purse strings. She has been a ded­i­cated advocate for in­vest­ing in bio­med­i­cal re­search into ma­jor dis­eases like di­a­betes and Alzheimer’s, as well as pub­lic health pro­grams like pan­demic pre­pared­ness. She has also long cham­pi­oned women’s health is­sues.

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