Every two years, a new Congress convenes, after a completely new House of Representatives and several new Senate members are selected to represent us. On January 3, 2017, the 115th Congress will convene at noon and will decide on bills, resolutions, and weigh in on our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness.

And diabetes. They’ll make decisions about diabetes, too.

Changes to Congress

Fifty-six new members will take seats in the House of Representatives (42 Republicans/ 14 Democrats) and three new Democratic Senators and one new Republican Senator rounds out the “freshman class.”

The 115th Congress will be represented by a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House; 104 women (/21 Senate83 House), with Cortez Masto a the first Latina to serve in the Senate. There was also an increase in minority representation: 59 African-American members, 38 Hispanic members, 15 Asian members, and 4 Indian-American members. While this is not representative of the United States population, this is a change from previous Congresses. For more information about the 115th Congress demographic makeup, the Hill has a brief, but helpful, article here.

Senate leadership will change, with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) assuming the role of minority leader from retiring Senator Harry Reid (D-NV).

Committees & Subcommittees

While nothing is etched in stone, some of the committees will see changes in leadership that will impact people with diabetes:

Energy & Commerce Committee leadership in the House is being handed over from Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-06) to Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-02), but no announcement has been made about the identity of the chairman of the health subcommittee of Energy & Commerce.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) will remain as the leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. They will be instrumental in the passage of the successor of the National Diabetes Clinical Care Commission Act, which was passed in the House during the 114th Congress, but languished in the HELP Committee and was never brought to the Senate floor.

Senator Orrin Hatch remains as the head of the Finance Committee and will be a key player in repealing/replacing the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of your insurance status, the ACA repeal/replacement will impact all people with diabetes.

What Should We Expect The First Few Weeks of the 115th Congress for Diabetes?

It won’t be boring. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has been selected as a rallying point for the new administration. While the ACA can’t be repealed fully during the first few weeks, we can expect that the Republican majority House and Senate to use a concept called “reconciliation” to strip some of the budgetary portions of the Act.

Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation.  In the Senate, reconciliation bills aren’t subject to filibuster and the scope of amendments is limited, giving this process real advantages for enacting controversial budget and tax measures. (http://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/introduction-to-budget-reconciliation)

With reconciliation, the Senate could pass legislation to repeal parts of the bill with 51 votes, avoiding a filibuster. If it’s attached to the nation’s budget, then it can be reconciled. Individual and company mandates to purchase insurance can be repealed, as the tax subsidies given to Marketplace policies.

What cannot be repealed through reconciliation is the pre-existing condition protection and the ability to keep children on a policy until the age of 26. 

For people with diabetes, these two issues are incredibly important.

Over the next several weeks and months, bills will be presented to replace the Affordable Care Act. DPAC will be reviewing these bills to ensure that our community has access to safe and quality medical devices, medications, supplies, and services.

Happy Birthday, 115th Congress! We’ll be watching you grow!