7 Races That Could Affect Health Policy

Watch out for 4 Senate and 3 House races

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt is locked in a tight re-election battle against Democrat Jason Kander. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The 2016 election will have a dramatic impact on health policy. The future of the Obama administration’s signature health care law is at stake in the presidential race. Senate races across the country could deliver control of the upper chamber to a new party with an ambitious health policy agenda — or keep it in Republican hands for looming debates over drug pricing, children’s health insurance and the review process for new treatments at the Food and Drug Administration.

There are also a handful of individual House and Senate races that will impact the health care conversation on Capitol Hill. Below, we round up seven races that stand to impact the industry.

Missouri Senate

This tossup race pits Sen. Roy Blunt, the incumbent Republican, against the 35-year-old Democratic upstart Jason Kander, the Missouri secretary of state. And while neither Blunt nor Kander has focused on health policy in their race, a Democratic win would oust Blunt from his perch atop the Appropriations panel subcommittee that focuses on health spending.

Blunt and his Democratic counterpart on the committee this year delivered the first bipartisan Labor-HHS-Education bill in seven years, a compromise that centered on a $2 billion boost for the National Institutes of Health and a $1.4 billion increase for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Kander, an Army veteran, received attention this cycle for an ad demonstrating his prowess in assembling an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle blindfolded. Kander has focused his attacks on Blunt’s long career in Washington, including his previous seven terms in the House of Representatives, while Blunt has worked hard to tie Kander to Clinton.

New Hampshire Senate

The epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths spurred by prescription opioid and heroin abuse has been felt around the country, but the problem has been particularly acute in New Hampshire, where candidates at all levels have made it part of their campaign agenda.

Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte was a vocal supporter of the congressional effort to combat opioid abuse, which was signed into law (PL 114-98) in July. But aspects of that law are only starting to be enacted, and the money it provides to states won’t make it to local coffers until next year. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running to unseat Ayotte, has also been running on her administration’s attempt to prevent abuse and overdose.

The result there could signal whether voters have more faith in local government or the federal government to address drug abuse and addiction. If Ayotte is defeated after her first term, it will represent the loss of the rare Republican who was willing to vote with Democrats to pump money into the opioid legislation. But she would be replaced by someone who has experience in crafting policies related not just to drug abuse but other health issues.

North Carolina Senate

Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr is locked in a close re-election bid against Democratic challenger Deborah Ross.

Burr is one of the strongest Senate advocates for changes to drug and device industry oversight at the Food and Drug Administration. During his service in the House, Burr sponsored legislation to speed up the review timeline for new drug treatments. He was also instrumental while in the Senate in the creation of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an office within the Department of Health and Human Services that provides funding for new vaccines and other treatments for potential biological attacks.

Burr sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and has been a strong advocate for a package of biomedical innovation bills currently moving through Congress known as 21st Century Cures. Pharmaceutical companies are among his largest campaign contributors and have donated more than $1 million to Burr’s re-election effort.

Ross has expressed support for legislation to fix the 2010 health care overhaul, while Burr pledged to repeal it. Ross also vowed to fight to repeal the medical device tax in that law and advocated for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, a policy position she has held since serving in the state legislature.

Arizona 2nd

Democrat Matt Heinz is a bit of a long shot in the race against incumbent Republican Rep. Martha McSally in one of the country’s most evenly split districts. But the Tucson doctor has a two-year stint at the Department of Health and Human Services under his belt and focused much of his campaign on health policy.

Heinz was director of provider outreach in the HHS Office of the Secretary, where he worked on the Ebola crisis and the implementation of the 2010 health law. He made that law a centerpiece of his campaign, contrasting his own support for the overhaul with his opponent’s staunch opposition. Heinz has blasted McSally for voting to defund Planned Parenthood.

McSally, an Air Force veteran, hasn’t focused on health care issues during her single term in the House.

Louisiana Senate

More than 24 candidates are running for Senate in Louisiana’s jungle primary, but two of the top Republicans in the red state race are physicians and sitting House members: Reps. John Fleming and Charles Boustany Jr.

Both have been relatively outspoken on health policy during their House tenures. Fleming, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is a loud critic of the 2010 health law and an adamant opponent of abortion rights. Boustany, who enjoys a coveted spot on the Ways and Means Committee, has sponsored several bills to repeal health law taxes on insurance companies, as well as a rule related to how small business employees are taxed on some health insurance purchases.

In Louisiana, the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s primary, regardless of their political party, will advance to a December runoff election. Republican John Kennedy leads in the polls, but the next four candidates — Boustany, Fleming and two Democrats — aren’t far behind.

Louisiana 3rd

Gus Rantz is running in a crowded field to replace Boustany, who is running for Louisiana’s open Senate seat. Rantz could very well pull off a second-place finish that would take him to a runoff in December. If he succeeds in making it to Congress, he will bring the perspective of a hospital executive who is tired of government regulation and paperwork.

Rantz is president of Acadiana Management Group, which runs 19 hospitals that specialize in long-term care and rehabilitation. He has campaigned on the idea that red tape makes patient care harder. Some hospitals have had difficulty adapting to the climate put in place by the health care overhaul, and not surprisingly, Rantz wants to return to a lighter regulatory approach to coverage.

Pennsylvania 8th

Retiring Republican Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick has been one of the strongest proponents on Capitol Hill for enhanced medical device safety measures since his election to Congress in 2011. His brother, Brian Fitzpatrick, is running to replace him but is locked in a close race with Democratic challenger Steve Santarsiero.

Brian Fitzpatrick has made health care a cornerstone of his campaign. He advocated for doubling funding for women’s health programs at the National Institutes of Health, enhancing breast cancer education efforts and, like his brother, changing the medical device adverse event reporting system at the FDA.

Santarsiero fought aggressively during his tenure in the Pennsylvania statehouse to block legislation that would impact women’s reproductive health care, including a bill that would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

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