Experts say Democrats and Republicans could work together on a variety of policy issues over the course of the year.
In late November 2022, the Senate passed HR 8404, the Respect for Marriage Act,1 to codify marriage equality. The New York Times hailed the vote—62 in favor, 36 opposed—as a bipartisan breakthrough: 12 Republican senators joined Democrats to vote yes, sending the bill back to the House of Representatives for final approval.2 That came in early December, with a 258-169-1 vote; 39 Republicans supported the measure alongside Democrats.3
Does the passage of this measure suggest that there might be more bipartisan cooperation in the future, particularly on contentious health policy issues? For now, the answer to that question is a qualified maybe, based on what experts who have worked in the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle have said following the November 8 midterm elections—the results of which left Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House. (In December, Senate Democrats gained a slim 51-49 majority when Senator Raphael Warnockwon his Georgia runoff Several days later, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced that she is leaving the party and registering as an independent.) The issues most likely to be addressed include telehealth, mental health and provider payment, experts predicted.
One week after the midterms, Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, hosted a web event, “What’s Next for Health Policy After the Election?”4 Panelists included Chris Jennings, founder and president of Washington, D.C.-based health care consulting firm Jennings Policy Strategies, and Jennifer Young, a co-founder and partner at Tarplin, Downs & Young, a consulting and policy development firm focused on healthcare in Washington, D.C..
Jennings has more than 30 years of healthcare policy experience in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, for the United States Congress, and in the private sector. Young held senior positions in the Department of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration and worked as a staff member in the House and the Senate.
Although Jennings and Young identified areas in which members of both parties might work together, each avoided strong predictions, and Levitt tamped down any expectations of major legislation. “With a divided Congress, it’s hard to see anything big happening in health care in Washington over the next couple of years,” he wrote in response to a request for comment after the web event. “One rarely goes wrong betting on inactionin Congress.”
Still, addressing mental health and expanding access to telehealth are 2 areas where parties might find common ground. Levitt also noted that members of Congress have what he called “sympathetic ears on both sides of the aisle” for Medicare providers interested in averting reductions in payment from earlier budget cuts.
During the web event, both Jennings and Young agreed that Congress is likely to consider laws to address the nation’s mental health crisis and to extend provisions for telehealth services. Although healthcare is a high priority for both parties, Jennings explained that “sometimes we have to lower our expectations about how big and broad” either party would go in tackling major issues.“ This is not going to be a Congress in which you can accomplish bold coverage goals in a bipartisan way,” Young added.
Legislation To Watch
Young believes that members of Congress will be trying this year to develop a bipartisan plan to support payment for telehealth well into the future. “Do there need to be program integrity parameters built in?” she asked. “That could absolutely be a bipartisan conversation.” Bipartisan agreement is likely for more use of telehealth and the use of more technology in healthcare, Jennings added. Both the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Senate Committee on Finance will address these issues, he added.
Telehealth does not suffer from lack of support. Early last year, more than 300 healthcare organizations—including professional physician associations, health plans, health systems, and other healthcare groups and providers—signed a letter asking Senate and House leaders to authorize the continuation of all current telehealth waivers through December 31, 2024, and to pursue permanent evidence-based legislation supporting the implementation of telehealth services in 2024.
Soon afterward, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat who narrowly won reelection in November, and Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, introduced S.3593, the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act,5 to expand how CMS will pay for telehealth services for 2 years after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The bill would allow federally qualified health centersand rural health clinics to serve as telehealth locations for healthcare providers, and for Medicare payment to critical access hospitals that provide outpatient telehealth behavioral therapy services. The bill also would set conditions for payment of certain high-cost laboratory tests and durable medical equipment ordered via telehealth on at least one in-person visit during the previous 12 months and would allow providers to prescribe certain controlled substances if they have conducted a video evaluation of the patient. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
Late in 2021, Texas Democrat Representative Lloyd Doggett introduced HR 6202, the Telehealth Extension Act,6 which would accomplish some of the same goals as the Senate bill. Doggett’s legislation was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Subcommittee on Health.
According to Jennings, both parties are interested in providing more funding for opioid treatment programs—and Young agreed. “Opioid treatment programs are very, very big, and very, very bipartisan,” she explained, noting that members of both houses are likely to vote in favor of bills drafted to address mental health. One of those bills is HR 7666, the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022,7 introduced by New Jersey Democrat Representative Frank Pallonein May 2022. HR 7666 was approved by the full House by a wide margin and is under consideration in the Senate.Senators introduced several other bills in 2022 that address various aspects of substance abuse; how they might be reconciled with the House legislation will be one thing to watch in 2023.
1. HR 8404, Respect for Marriage Act. 117th Cong; 2021-2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/8404
2. Karni A. Same-sex marriage rights bill clears a crucial senate hurdle. New York Times. Published November 16, 2022. Updated December 5, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/16/us/politics/same-sex-marriage-bill-senate.html
3. Karni A. Bill to protect same-sex marriage rights clears congress. Published December 8, 2022. Updated December 9, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/08/us/politics/same-sex-marriage-congress.html
4. What’s next for health policy after the election? Kaiser Family Foundation. Published November 15, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.https://www.kff.org/other/event/nov-15-web-event-whats-next-for-health-policy-after-the-election/
5. S 3593, Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act. 117th Cong; 2021-2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/3593
6. HR 6202, Telehealth Extension Act of 2021. 117th Cong; 2021-2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/6202
7. HR 7666, Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. 117th Cong, 2021-2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/7666