- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is next in line to chair the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions when current chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., steps down from the post to assume leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Spokespersons for both Sanders and Murray confirmed the senators' intentions to take up the 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 healthcare, lowering prescription drug costs, increasing access to higher education and protecting workers' rights, the Sanders spokesperson told state news website VTDigger.
- Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is set to become the next ranking member of the HELP committee. "I look forward to securing real solutions for issues facing us all," Cassidy, a doctor, said in a statement.
A split Congress with a slim Republican majority in the House after the midterm elections will ensure more gridlock on issues like healthcare costs and access.
Nonetheless, as chairman of the HELP committee, Sanders could gain fresh momentum in a prominent position to advance his vision for the U.S. healthcare system.
An outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical industry, Sanders has pushed for stronger prescription drug reforms than those contained in the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden in August.
Major provisions of that legislation require Medicare to begin negotiating some drug prices beginning in 2026 and cap Medicare Part D out-of-pocket costs in 2025. Pharmaceutical manufacturers also must pay rebates to Medicare if drug prices rise faster than the rate of inflation starting in 2023.
Sanders, who has served on the HELP committee since elected to the Senate in 2007, argues that Medicare should have the same broad power as the Department of Veterans Affairs to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. He has also called for reducing the age of Medicare eligibility and expanding the program to provide hearing, vision and dental coverage.
At the start of the pandemic, Sanders introduced a bill that would have protected Americans during the public health emergency from paying any out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare, banned surprise billing and empowered Medicare to buy pharmaceuticals at the same prices as the VA.
Cassidy, who was elected to the Senate in 2014, once helped launch a community clinic that served the uninsured in his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He told The Washington Post's Health 202 that he wants to conduct oversight into the implementation of the surprise billing law.
The formal process to seat the next chairman and ranking member will take place next year in the new Congress.