An extraordinary 114 million voters cast ballots Tuesday and delivered the House of Representatives back into the hands of the Democratic party, while voters in more conservative states chose to oust several Democratic incumbents to ensure that the Senate remains under Republican control for the 116th Congress. While some races have yet to be called, turnout was the highest it’s ever been for a midterm election, and the outcomes ensure that lawmakers will have to find a way to reach bipartisan consensus to achieve any meaningful health policy outcomes before the next national election in 2020.
In the Illinois 14th congressional district, registered nurse Lauren Underwood successfully unseated her incumbent opponent, ensuring that the 116th Congress will benefit from the perspective and insights of a member of America’s most trusted profession. Endorsed by ANA-PAC, Underwood focused her campaign messaging on the need to improve health policy and is likely to make it a major component of her agenda once in office.
Similarly, Democratic candidates across the country put health care at the center of their campaigns, and the new House majority is widely expected to tackle issues like market stabilization once the 116th Congress convenes, as well as other measures to shore up the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As with all issues in the new Congress, getting a bill on the President’s desk for signature will require bipartisan cooperation with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his now expanded majority.
Despite uncertainty around how fruitful any such cooperation might be, divided control of Congress ensures that any subsequent attempts to repeal and/or replace additional elements of the ACA will be dead on arrival, particularly given the prominence of protecting patients with pre-existing conditions in Democratic campaign messaging. House Democrats will also likely consider legislation to bring back the ACA’s mandate that individuals attain health coverage, which was eliminated in the tax package congressional Republicans passed late last year.
While more progressive candidates tended to focus on the need for a single-payer health care system, most commonly referred to as Medicare for All, this approach will be a non-starter in the Republican Senate, increasing the likelihood that more incremental reforms will be the focus on Capitol Hill. Despite this, single-payer proponents will continue to push both incumbent lawmakers and those who challenge them on the left to embrace Medicare for All, in the hopes of eventually electing a Congress that can pass it.
In post-election press conferences, both President Donald Trump and current Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who is widely expected to attempt to regain the title Speaker of the House) indicated that they would seek to find common ground on a number of issues, including legislation that would reduce prescription drug costs, though details on how to accomplish this shared goal are unclear.
On the ballot initiative front, three states voted to do what their governors and state lawmakers had so far refused to do: expand access to Medicaid. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah all approved measures to allow adults and their families to receive coverage via this federal program. States will now be required to submit a State Plan Amendment that outlines how they will implement these programs, with deadlines arriving either in early March or April of next year, depending on the state. Other states that have held off on Medicaid expansion are likely to consider similar initiatives going forward.