In new Congress, changes to key committees

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What to expect from four key committees in the 113th Congress

With health care–related committee assignments set for the 113th Congress, pharmacy is hoping for some positive legislative action.

APhA works with four main committees in Congress: Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means on the House side, and Finance and Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) on the Senate side. Each of these full committees has a health subcommittee.

New leadership, faces

After the 2012 elections, changes to key committees include new leadership and new faces.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) replaced Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) as ranking member on the Senate HELP Committee. Because Tennessee was hit hard by the deadly fungal meningitis outbreak linked to the now-closed New England Compounding Center, Alexander “ may be more engaged on drafting compounding legislation,” said Michael Spira, APhA Senior Lobbyist.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is a new member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) is a new member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. “Brown and Braley, in the past, have been supporters of pharmacy,” Spira added.

On the other hand, some losses to pharmacy include former Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who was involved in prescription drug monitoring programs; former Rep. Brian Bilbray, who was involved in track-and-trace issues; and former Rep. Mike Ross, who owned and operated a pharmacy with his wife until 2007, according to votesmart.org.

Committee jurisdictions

The four committees are important to pharmacists because of their respective jurisdictions, according to the committee websites.

The House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health has jurisdiction over health information technology, Medicare Part B, Medicaid, regulation of drugs, drug abuse, and CDC. The House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health has jurisdiction over programs providing payment for health care, health delivery systems or health research, and certain health care programs under the Social Security Act (Medicare Parts A and B).

The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over health care programs under the Social Security Act, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Senate HELP Committee has jurisdiction over biomedical research and development, occupational safety and health, public health, and student loans.

Committee assignments

The 113th Congress formally began on January 3, without any pharmacist Members of Congress.

Committee assignments are made by the steering committees. Each chamber of Congress has a Republican steering committee and a Democratic steering committee. Assignments are based on seniority, state, expertise, and influence, among other things. Members of Congress lobby to be on committees based on their interests and the interests of their constituents. They may also lobby for committees to help them stay in office based on fundraising abilities and jurisdiction. In the end, the steering committees have the final say. Once the committees and committee chairs are set, the chairs and ranking members decide the subcommittees.

APhA priorities

This year, APhA’s top priorities include provider status and compounding. “We are working to make APhA a valuable resource to Congress on all pharmacy issues,” Spira said.

APhA is working to ensure patient access to pharmacists’ clinical services. Through recognition as health care providers, pharmacists can provide the highest level of care to their patients and provide medication expertise to the medical team.

With the recent compounding tragedy in New England, lawmakers are prepared to pass legislation affecting the practice of pharmacy compounding. APhA has sent comment letters to House and Senate committees and has met with key Members of Congress to discuss compounding issues. “Something’s going to happen. There will be changes. But we don’t want them to be too drastic,” Spira said. “We know we are going to get a haircut. We just don’t want it to be too short.”

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