Sanders poised to lead Senate health committee

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Dive Brief:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., next chaired the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions while current chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is stepping down to assume leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Spokespeople for Sanders and Murray confirmed the senators’ intentions to take on new roles, according to media reports.
  • Sanders has long championed a single-payer, Medicare for all national health insurance program. As chairman of the HELP committee, he will focus on universal health care, reducing prescription drug costs, increasing access to higher education and protecting workers’ rights, a Sanders spokesperson told state news website VTDigger.
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is set to be the next ranking member of the HELP committee. “I hope to secure a real solution to the problem we all face,” Cassidy, a doctor, said in a statement.
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Dive Insights:

A split Congress with a slim Republican majority in the House after the midterm elections will ensure more issues like health care costs and access.

However, as the chairman of the HELP committee, Sanders can gain new momentum in a position that is important to advance his vision for the US health care system.

A critic of the pharmaceutical industry, Sanders has pushed for stronger prescription drug reform than was contained in the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden in August.

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The main provisions of the law require Medicare to begin negotiating some drug prices starting in 2026 and cover Medicare Part D out-of-pocket costs in 2025. PHarmaceutical manufacturers will also have to pay rebates to Medicare if drug prices rise faster than the rate of inflation starting in 2023.

Sanders, who has been on the HELP committee since being elected to the Senate in 2007, said Medicare should have the same powers. as the Department of Veterans Affairs to negotiate cheap prescription drug prices. He has also called for lowering the Medicare eligibility age and expanding the program to provide hearing, vision and dental coverage.

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At the beginning of the pandemic, Sanders introduce the bill which would protect Americans during public health emergencies from out-of-pocket health care costs, ban surprise bills and give Medicare the power to buy drugs at the same price as the VA.

Cassidy, who was elected to the Senate in 2014, helped launch a community clinic serving the uninsured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He told The Washington Post’s Health 202 that he wants to monitor the implementation of the surprise bill legislation.

The formal process for the seat of the chairman and the next ranking member will take place next year in the new Congress.

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