At CURA, we’re always looking at current events through the lens of what we do best: health care. We’ve been closely monitoring the congressional elections to inform our forthcoming CURA Health Policy Profiles: A Guide to the Freshman Members of the 117th Congress, which dives into the health policies of incoming freshmen to be seated in January 2021. Fueled by more than 200 hours of research on 85 of the most competitive races, the CURA Health Policy Profiles will outline the health care background and policy stances of each and every new U.S. Senator and Representative. For each new member, we’re tracking issues like insurance coverage, mental health services, the opioid crisis, veteran’s health, family planning, prescription drug pricing, COVID-19 and marijuana.
You can sign up now to be the first to receive the free, complete Health Policy Profiles. In the meantime, here are three trends we’ll be watching tonight and beyond as votes are counted across the nation.
Senate Races in States that Haven’t Expanded Medicaid
While the news cycle continues to be (understandably) dominated by COVID-19, perhaps the hottest topic in health policy circles is the ongoing fight over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion. There are 12 states who have yet to adopt the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. Six of these states are currently locked in heated Senate races with health care as a top issue.
In Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, five Republican Senate incumbents are being challenged by Democratic candidates running with an emphasis on health care and Medicaid expansion. Jamie Harrison, a Democrat challenging long-time Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), is staking his competitive campaign on a rural health plan and a call to expand Medicaid coverage in South Carolina. Democratic candidates Cal Cunningham (NC), Jon Ossoff (GA), Raphael Warnock (GA) and MJ Hegar (TX) will also look to challenge entrenched GOP incumbents who have resisted calls to expand coverage in these largely rural states.
Two other states without Medicaid expansion are locked in competitive Senate races. Incumbent Doug Jones (D-AL) is defending his improbable special election victory against former Auburn University football coach and GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville. Kansas, a state that has also not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, will see two physicians with different health care visions fighting in its open seat race (more on that below).
Jockeying for Key Health Committee Gavels
Several retirements and close races in Congress will shift the leadership and makeup of health-focused committees.
The House side will see at least 10 vacancies—four Democrats and six Republicans—on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which deals with health-related legislation. The GOP ranking member, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), is retiring at the end of the term, and the most senior representatives in line to replace him are Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Michael Burgess (R-TX), a former physician.
In addition, House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) is retiring, and three other tenured Democrats in the House are vying to take over the Appropriations gavel: Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). None of these Congresswomen are expected to see close races on election night.
While the House Democratic majority is unlikely to change (and may even expand), control of the Senate is very much in play this election with 14 competitive Senate contests. A flip in the Senate majority toward Democrats would hand Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) the gavel in the influential Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Sen. Murray has served as the ranking member of the committee since 2015 and would assume leadership at a time when a Democratic majority will likely work to bolster the ACA.
The Republican lineup on the HELP committee will see significant turnover with three senior Republican retirements—Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike Enzi (R-WY). With Sen. Richard Burr unlikely to accept the gavel after an insider trading scandal earlier this year, the top GOP position on the committee is likely to fall to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Three other Senators on the HELP Committee, Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Doug Jones (D-AL), are facing tight election races heading into the final stretch of the campaign.
Physicians Running for Congress
Several races in key battleground areas will see physicians vying for a congressional bid. One race in particular features not one, but two physicians dueling for a Senate seat. In Kansas, Rep. Roger Marshall, an OBGYN, is leaving his position in the House to run for the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). His opponent, Dr. Barbara Bollier, is a former anesthesiologist and Kansas state senator who made headlines in 2019 when she switched her party affiliation to Democrat over differences in health policy.
Another race to watch is Virginia’s fifth district, which features Democratic candidate Dr. Cameron Webb, a general internist and the director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine. In this largely rural district, Dr. Webb is facing Republican Bob Good, a former county supervisor, in this toss-up seat currently held by the GOP.
To learn more about the outcomes of these races and every new member of Congress in 2021, follow CURA Strategies on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram and be the first to know about the release of the CURA Health Policy Profiles, or preorder your copy today.