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What's Ahead for HIV Advocates in the 116th Congress?

In her opening speech to the soon-to-be sworn in members of the 116th Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) outlined a broad and ambitious agenda for House Democrats over the next 2 years. Having been sent to Washington by an American electorate who, in the Speaker’s words, “demanded a new dawn” in Congress and in the nation at large, Pelosi highlighted her party’s aims to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, earnestly address the dire threat of climate change, defend the right to healthcare for people living with pre-existing conditions, lower prescription drug prices, and ensure that LGBTQ Americans are not discriminated against, to name a few.

It remains to be seen whether the lofty goals laid out by Speaker Pelosi can be met, but, if the first week or so of the 116th Congress is any indication, the task before House Democrats will not be an easy one. With Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the vast majority of his Republican colleagues in the Senate showing their willingness to support President Trump in his continuation of the partial government shutdown that has caused harm to millions of Americans, the prospects of bipartisan compromise in the 116th Congress look grim.

However, a less cooperative Congress does not necessarily mean it will be less productive for HIV advocates looking to see their priorities addressed. Here are a few things to look out for in the 116th Congress:

<b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal">House Intervention in Affordable Care Act Lawsuit

On Wednesday, House Democrats voted to authorize legal intervention by the House general counsel in Texas v. Azar, a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of 20 GOP-led states, questioning the constitutionality of the ACA. In an unexpected and legally dubious decision, District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled last month that the entirety of the ACA was unconstitutional, making the future of the health care law once more in doubt (you can read AIDS United’s assessment of the law here).

<b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal">Medicare for All Hearings

While House Democrats are all in agreement on the need to defend the ACA and ensure continued protections for people living with pre-existing conditions, they are much more divided on the idea of backing a single payer national health insurance program. The debate around a “Medicare for All” program was a largely ideological one last Congress, but now that Democrats have control of the House, there will be committee hearings on Medicare for All, with legislation from Medicare for All caucus chair Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-7) likely to be the focus of at least one hearing.

<b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal">House Committee Investigations Into Trump Administration ACA Sabotage

What has the Trump administration been doing with all the money they’ve collected from ACA user fees? That’s just one of the many questions that House Democrats have for administration officials regarding their management of the ACA exchanges. A recent letter from Democratic leaders on 5 health care committees asking that question is just the beginning of what is sure to be an extensive effort by House Democrats to demonstrate that the Trump administration has been working to actively sabotage the ACA.

<b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal">Action on Lowering Drug Pricing

If there is one area where there appears to be some room for bipartisan cooperation both within Congress and with the Trump administration, it is drug pricing reform. Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Oversight and Investigations Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD-7) and House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) have all signaled a desire to go after the pharmaceutical industry in the 116th Congress. Whether it’s the revival of legislation around federal negotiation of Medicare drug prices or providing affordable access to generic drugs, it looks like some progress will be made on this issue over the next 2 years.

Ending the HIV Epidemic by 2025

In the wake of the release of the Community-Driven Roadmap to End HIV Epidemic in U.S. by 2025, AIDS United, the Act Now: End AIDS Coalition, and the more than 250 HIV and community organizations from across the U.S. that endorsed the Roadmap are more determined than ever to ensure that ending the HIV epidemic is a top priority for the 116th Congress. The United States now has the tools and ability to end the HIV epidemic at home while simultaneously addressing the related syndemics of opioid use, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis, but without sufficient political will that won’t be enough.

AIDS United looks forward to working with HIV advocates like yourself to make sure that ending the HIV epidemic is at the forefront of Congress’s agenda over the next 2 years. We encourage you to start your HIV advocacy for the 116th Congress off at AIDSWatch 2019, where hundreds of people living with HIV and their allies will meet with members of Congress and to educate them about the important issues at stake for people living with HIV in the United States. Click here to find out more and register.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, January 11, 2019

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