Democrats Expected To Address Health Care
Democrats, who will take control of the House and likely will take control of the Senate in the 110th Congress, are expected to seek to pass a number of bills that address health care issues, USA Today reports. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who likely will become speaker, has said that she will seek to pass legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on prescription drugs within the first 100 hours after the House convenes (Appleby, USA Today, 11/9).
Democrats also likely will seek to expand access to health insurance for children through the reauthorization of SCHIP (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 11/8).
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is expected to become chair, likely will consider legislation that would require health care providers to implement electronic health records systems and standardize EHRs to allow transmission between providers. Kennedy also might "move bills to overhaul" NIH and FDA, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 11/9).
House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.), who likely will become chair, has said that he will consider health care legislation to help single parents and small businesses. Dingell also is expected to "revive old calls for a patients' bill of rights," CQ Today reports (Tollefson, CQ Today, 11/9).
American Hospital Association Executive Vice President Rick Pollack said that Democrats likely will seek to implement pay-for-performance provisions in Medicare.
However, a Democratic Congress "is likely to be unfriendly terrain for expansion of health savings accounts," CQ HealthBeat reports.
William Vaughan, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, said that Democrats might add provisions in legislation to reauthorize the Prescription Drug User Fee Act to strengthen FDA oversight of new medications after they reach the market.
Democrats also might seek to pass legislation to remove restrictions that President Bush has placed on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. According to CQ HealthBeat, "Democrats hope that hearings focusing attention on issues such as the nation's growing uninsured population ... eventually will lead to legislation that would actually be signed into law -- perhaps after 2008 by a Democratic president" (CQ HealthBeat, 11/8).
"Shares of major pharmaceutical companies slipped" on Wednesday, but analysts "cautioned that Democratic control of the House ... is unlikely to bring much immediate change for the industry," the Wall Street Journal reports (Johnson/Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 11/9).
Large pharmaceutical companies "could face pressure on earnings if Democrats succeed in imposing limits on drug prices under the Medicare prescription drug benefit," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers "also may face Democratic demands to cut their share of drug revenue and cover treatment for mental illnesses at the same level as other conditions," the Inquirer reports (Ginsberg, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/9).
However, in the long-term, biotechnology companies might benefit from efforts by Democrats to promote stem cell research (Foss, AP/Arizona Daily Star, 11/9). Democrats also might seek to pass legislation that would benefit generic pharmaceutical companies (Wall Street Journal, 11/9).
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who likely will become chair, said, "I can't begin to tell you the number of pharmaceuticals and private hospital organizations that have come to me and my staff saying they would want to work with us as we put together a plan to cover those 47 million (uninsured) people who are out there."
Rangel said that corporate leaders also are concerned about the uninsured, adding, "Because they are compassionate? Hell no. But because they are paying for the insurance of these people directly. These people are getting health care. They're just not paying for it" (CQ HealthBeat, 11/8).
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America CEO Billy Tauzin said, "We believe that Congress and the administration should carefully consider the impact that any legislation or regulation might have on pharmaceutical innovation" (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 11/9).
PhRMA spokesperson Ken Johnson added, "There's no question that the world just changed for us, but it's not a big surprise, and no one's panicking" (Wall Street Journal, 11/9).
Catherine Bennett of Venable LLP said, "Off-label marketing of drugs, patent litigation settlements and drug safety will all be on the table, something that pharma companies have not had to worry about under a Republican-controlled House" (Ginsberg, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/9).
Joe France, a managed care analyst for Banc of America Securities, said, "Even if there's no change in legislation, just the greater scrutiny and oversight, that's going to constrain price increases" of health insurance premiums (USA Today, 11/9).
Federation of American Hospitals President Chip Kahn said, "Democrats are more comfortable talking about health issues" than Republicans, adding, "I can't say what's going to happen with enacted legislation, but I think the health care discourse will be many decibels higher because Democrats like to talk about this issue" (CQ HealthBeat, 11/8).
Joseph Antos, a health care analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, said that Democrats should remain cautious about revisions to the Medicare prescription drug benefit because of the potential impact on the 2008 elections. "People (in Congress) think about the next election, and you don't want to be the person on Capitol Hill who told everyone that they had to change their health plan," Antos said (Mondics, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/9).
ABCNews on Wednesday asked several health care experts about actions that Democrats might take to address health care issues. The experts included:
- John McDonough, executive director of Health Care For All;
- Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University;
- Alan Sager, a professor of health policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health;
- Richard Saltman, a professor of health policy and management at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health;
- Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, who holds the Robert L. Willett Family Professorship at the Washington and Lee University School of Law;
- Ken Thorpe, a professor at Emory University who served as deputy assistant secretary for policy at HHS from 1993 through 1995; and
- Gail Wilensky, an economist and senior fellow at Project HOPE (Johnson, ABCNews, 11/8).