The push to set a healthcare policy agenda could be limited by an impasse redux over border-wall funding.
As policy discussions return this week to Capitol Hill, Democrats are looking to set an agenda that focuses on healthcare, both to fulfill promises they made to midterm voters and to score political points.
In its first policy hearing since Democrats took control of the House this month, the House Ways & Means Committee discussed Tuesday morning the Affordable Care Act and its coverage protections for Americans with preexisting conditions.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the committee's new chairman, took his opening remarks as an opportunity to criticize the Trump administration for its policies to "chip away" at the ACA's protections and the GOP's support for a lawsuit challenging the ACA's constitutionality.
"Despite their repeated claims to support the protections for healthcare with people in preexisting conditions, their actions have directly contradicted the statements," Neal said. "They're currently leading ongoing efforts to undermine or eliminate the current law's protections for Americans with preexisting conditions. This is the wrong course of action."
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who became the committee's ranking member this month after serving more than three years as its chairman, defended his co-partisans, arguing that Republicans support preexisting condition protections and other provisions of the ACA but see the law as making care too expensive.
"We have to do more than protect healthcare. We have to work together to make it affordable," Brady said. "The ACA is failing too many Americans who face soaring costs, skyrocketing deductibles, and few choices of local doctors and hospitals. It really is time for a fresh start, this time with both parties working together, creating truly affordable healthcare focused on patients, not on Washington."
The committee heard testimony from Kaiser Family Foundation Senior Fellow Karen Pollitz, Oregon Insurance Commissioner Andrew Stolfi, Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Vice President for Federal Advocacy and Strategic Alliances Keysha Brooks-Coley, American Heart Association volunteer Andrew Blackshear, and Nebraska Farm Bureau Chief Administrator and Secretary-Treasurer Rob Robertson.
The hearing comes after a 35-day partial government shutdown stemming from President Donald Trump's demand that Congress fund a border wall and lawmakers refusing to oblige. Trump has threatened to shut the government down again February 15 if he doesn't get his way, so Democrats' current window to set a healthcare agenda may not last long.
Busy Day on Capitol Hill
There were four healthcare-related hearings scheduled for Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill:
- Access to Care: Health Centers and Providers in Underserved Communities – Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), 10 a.m.
- Protecting Americans With Preexisting Conditions – House Ways & Means Committee, 10 a.m.
- Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part 1 – Senate Committee on Finance, 10:15 a.m.
- Examining the Actions of Drug Companies in Raising Prescription Drug Prices – House Committee on Oversight & Reform, 11 a.m.
—Steven Porter is an associate content manager and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.