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November 09, 2010

The Elections and Congress: More Health Care Professionals in the House - It's Tea Time


After Tuesday’s election, the landscape of many congressional committees will change, affecting the way Congress will handle the implementation of health care reform and many other issues that face our nation, including jobs and the economy.

On the House side, the changes include not only a majority of Republicans on each committee, but also a change in chairs of the committees. Important shifts in leadership that will be decided next week include the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, both of which have jurisdiction over health care legislation.

In the Senate, only composition of committees will change, more Republicans, but the Democrats retained the majority to keep chair positions.

Interestingly, the 112th Congress will have more members of the medical field. Compared to the 111th Congress, the House will have three more Representatives who are doctors, bringing the total to nineteen (19). The newly elected Representatives who have or are practicing medicine include:

  • Larry Bucshon, (R-IN) an Indiana cardio-thoracic surgeon, Navy Reserve;
  • Joe Heck,(R-NV) a Nevada orthopedic surgeon, Army Reserve, owner, medical education company;
  • Dan Benishek, (R-MI) general surgeon from Michigan; Replacing Bart Stupak
  • Renee Ellmers, (R-NC) a North Carolina nurse;
  • Scott DesJarlais, (R-TN) a Tennessee general practitioner;
  • Diane Black, (R-TN) a Tennessee emergency room nurse;
  • Paul Gosar, (R-AZ) a dentist in Arizona;
  • Andy Harris, (R-MD) an anesthesiologist and Army Reservist in Maryland;
  • Nan Hayworth, (R-NY) a New York ophthalmologist.

In the Senate, there are two more Senators with medical training, bringing the total to five (5). The new Senators are Rand Paul (R-KY) a Kentucky ophthalmologist, and John Boozman (R-AR) optometrist and congressman.

It is worth noting that all the newly elected health care members are Republicans which will mean that the healthcare practitioners will play a key role in this coming session of congress.  Also many have ties to the tea party and will be looking to make a difference in health care legislation and the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

In light of all the changes, a report from Congressional Quarterly predicted that the Senate Aging Committee, which is retaining Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) as its chair, might hold hearings related to the expansion of the Sunshine provision passed in the Affordable Care Act. There is a potential, according to CQ, that Kohl will look at whether pharmaceutical companies should disclose payments and gifts to nurses, pharmacists and other non-physicians who prescribe drugs, as they do for doctors.

Industry critic Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) will be moving as ranking minority member at the Senate Finance committee to ranking minority member at judiciary committee.  Senator Grassley will be replaced as ranking minority member in finance by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT).    Senator Grassley’s staffing and interests will change from investigations focused on healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry to investigations of the Obama administration judicial appointments.

It is also important to note that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will have a new leadership and staff. This is significant because it will result in new calculations and numbers about the potential costs of health care reform and specific aspects of health legislation.

Ultimately, with many of the elections decided mainly on the economy and health care reform, much of the focus in the 112th Congress will be on how to fix both of those issues. With many newly elected candidates running on strict opposition to health care reform, this may shape the way committees and Congressmen create legislation starting in January. It will certainly be helpful to have more practicing health professionals in both chambers to provide much needed insight into the weakness of the health care system and the potential positive or negative impact health care reform will have.

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