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What the New Congress Means for Medicare

As of November 6, Congress is split down the middle with Democrats holding majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans remaining in control of the Senate. The 116th Congress will convene beginning January 3, and Medicare and other important healthcare issues are likely to be confronted by this new Congress early on.

Medicare drug prices

One of the first bills this new Congress will likely attempt to pass is to lower Medicare drug prices. Both Democrats and Republicans have conflicting ideas about how to accomplish this. Democrats want to give Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices directly with drug manufacturers, but Republicans want to use the free market to drive drug prices down through competition.

The incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone, has already promised to move a bill forward that would give Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices. He has also proposed a bill (the Creates Act) that would make it more difficult for brand-name drug makers to block generic drugs from entering the market.

The fate of Medicare’s negotiating power will likely fall to incoming chair of the Senate Finance Committee (Senator Chuck Grassley, R-IA) which oversees Medicare. Grassley will replace the retiring Orrin Hatch as chair. Hatch was a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry, but Grassley has been a long-time critic of high drug prices. His decision might come down to President Trump’s position on the issue, which is nearly impossible to predict.

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Other Medicare issues the new Congress will tackle:

  1. Expanding Medicare eligibility. Outgoing House Speaker, Paul Ryan, was a strong advocate for cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits and increasing healthcare costs for older adults. The proposition to cut Medicare benefits was part of many House bills, but the idea never made it to the Senate floor. Now that Democrats have control of the House, they may attempt to expand Medicare eligibility if they can get Republicans of the new Congress on-board.
  2. Medicare for All. Democrats are mulling over three options under the umbrella of Medicare for All. The first two options would make Medicare available for people under 65. The third option would create a universal single-payer healthcare system. However, a Medicare for All bill will not pass unless Republicans in the new Congress can be persuaded.

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