Health Policy in the Omnibus
The 117th Congress ended late December 2022 with the passage of a massive $1.7 trillion Omnibus spending package to fund the federal government through Fiscal Year 2023 which ends on September 30, 2023. The major health care federal agencies received increased funding for key initiatives, like improving maternal health, fighting the opioid epidemic, expanding access to mental health services, and public health preparedness. You can read a summary of the health funding provisions here.
A Rocky Start to the 118th Congress
It was a historic road to the Speakership for Kevin McCarthy who won the gavel after 15 ballots and days of political maneuvering. Not since the December 1923 Speaker election did a first ballot not result in an elected Speaker. To get there, Speaker McCarthy had to make some considerable concessions to a small, but powerful group of conservative Republicans. These concessions were largely changes to rules governing House procedures and promises to place more conservative members on key committees.
Our Health Policy Predictions
Now that committee assignments are official, we can start to predict what the major health policy initiatives might look like this Congress. One committee to watch is the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee which has jurisdiction over public health, federal health agencies, aging, and individuals with disabilities. The committee will be led by members with two very different backgrounds and philosophies: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will serve as Chair and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as Ranking Member.
While Sanders is known as the staunch advocate for Medicare for All, he is aware that the current Senate makeup lacks the support necessary to move single-payer legislation and the HELP Committee lacks jurisdiction over the issue. Instead he intends to focus his committee work on the pharmaceutical industry and lowering prescription drug prices, expanding rural health, and improving our nation’s health workforce.
Ranking Member Cassidy, a gastroenterologist by training, has long championed access to generics and authored the No Surprises Act, now law, which established new federal protections against surprise medical bills. Cassidy is currently leading bipartisan efforts to improve health coverage for Americans jointly enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid – also known as dual eligibles.
It will certainly be interesting to see what bipartisan consensus Sanders, the populist policy wonk, and Cassidy, the health professional, can forge as they both work to craft and move health policy through their committee over the next two years.