HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: ACA Leads House Energy and Commerce Agenda

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House Energy and Commerce Democrats expect to return to Congress next year with a similar health-care agenda: strengthen Obamacare and push for lowering drug prices.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who is likely to continue his chairmanship if Democrats keep control, plans to keep a focus on lowering prescription drug prices, increasing funding for public health and federal research, and building on the Affordable Care Act, such as broadening insurance subsidies and encouraging states to expand Medicaid programs.

Pallone’s agenda also includes investigations into the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus response and use of taxpayer funds. The panel this year launched a probe into the awarding of federal contracts under the White House’s Operation Warp Speed Covid-19 vaccine research and development program. Another investigation by Pallone’s committee examined Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma’s use of agency funds on secretive communications contracts.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) is expected to stay as chairwoman of the committee’s health panel. If Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) becomes the top Republican of the committee at-large, the Health Subcommittee ranking Republican job would likely go to Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), a committee aide said. Read more from Kellie Lunney, Alex Ruoff and Rebecca Kern.

Other House panels with jurisdiction over health-care priorities include the Appropriations and Oversight and Reform committees:

  • Big changes are under discussion by Democrats in the three-way campaign to lead the Appropriations Committee, including a return to earmarks and an end to the decades-old ban on federal funds for abortions. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing Health and Human Services spending, is among those seeking to replace retiring Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) as head of the full committee.
  • DeLauro said she supports ending the longstanding Hyde amendment, which blocks the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life. That may hinge on the Senate and presidential elections. Joe Biden said in June 2019 he opposes the Hyde amendment, after previously supporting it.
  • Meanwhile, scrutiny of the federal government’s response to the pandemic will continue in the 117th Congress, lawmakers on the Oversight and Reform Committee said. This will be the first full term for panel chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “The top priority of the House—and presumably the entire government—will be on crushing the coronavirus and rebuilding our economy, and the Committee will play a key role in those efforts,” Maloney said in a statement.
  • The committee at-large and the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis have held numerous hearings withhealth and financial agency chiefs to look at how President Donald Trump‘s White House has tackled Covid-19 and the president’s plans to guide the U.S. out of the crisis. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee Government Operations panel, said he is concerned about improper use of the $2 trillion in funding from the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136). He also plans to advance work on modernizing federal IT systems, following a cyberattack on the Health and Human Services Department.

Despite House Democrats’ agenda going into the next session, Congress will likely send little major health-care legislation other than virus relief to the president’s desk next year if neither party has a significant majority, industry observers say. Lawmakers could strike deals in areas with bipartisan support, such as ending surprise medical bills and transparency in health care prices, one analyst said. But major action on the Affordable Care Act is unlikely, he said. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Read more about the priorities of House committees next year here.

Related: House Democrats Trade Blame Over Surprise Losses in Election

More Election Results:

  • Follow the latest on the House election results here, Senate here, and presidential race here.
  • For a look at all the members of the 117th Congress, including the incoming freshmen, find BGOV’s lawmaker directory here.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

House Plans Expanded Covid Testing: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is rolling out measures meant to bring the House into compliance with new travel restrictions being implemented by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to a Democratic aide. House lawmakers and staff will receive 2,000 RT-PCR tests at no cost from the U.S. Air Force. The attending physician will perform an additional test if there is a positive result. A longer-term solution is being explored, Billy House and Max Reyes report.

AstraZeneca CEO Floats Vaccine by End of Year: AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shot could be ready for large-scale vaccinations as early as the end of this year, CEO Pascal Soriot said yesterday while dismissing reports of delays and production snags. The British drugmaker is poised to unveil vaccine test results by year-end even after trials were slightly delayed over the summer as infection rates slowed in the northern hemisphere. A recent resurgence has allowed scientists to gather the necessary clinical data, according to Soriot. Read more from Suzi Ring and James Paton.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know

SCOTUS Called On to Accept Family Planning Review: Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia are urging the Supreme Court to grant review of a Ninth Circuit decision upholding a Trump administration rule that precludes federally funded family-planning providers from referring clients for abortions and forces them to physically and financially separate abortion from counseling services. Two petitions seeking review of the Ninth Circuit lawsuit present a better vehicle for resolving the dispute over the provision than a Fourth Circuit ruling striking the rule, the states told the nation’s top court. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

Cuomo Sees Legal Weed in N.Y. in 2021: New York’s governor said he’s confident the state will legalize marijuana next year to help fill an approximately $16 billion budget gap. “I think the pressure is going to be on, because we’re going to need the money so badly,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) yesterday. “I think it’s going to be an easier conversation,” he said on WAMC radio. Voters in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota approved ballot measures on Tuesday allowing medical or recreational marijuana for adult use. Read more from Keshia Clukey.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at; Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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