Sanders, Cassidy in line to lead pivotal Senate HELP committee in next Congress

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, are expected to be the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the key Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which holds major sway over healthcare policy, in the new Congress next year.

Cassidy, who decided to not run for Louisiana governor, is the next in line to be the ranking member, and published reports say Sanders intends to be the chairman. They will take over for Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington, who is expected to lead the appropriations committee, and Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, who is retiring.

Democrats are likely to at least have a 50-50 majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, but their majority could stretch to 51-49 if Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, prevails in a runoff next month. 

Sanders has been a frequent critic of the pharmaceutical industry and a proponent of a “Medicare for All” single-payer healthcare system. He has been a major proponent of giving Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices, which was included in a limited capacity in the Inflation Reduction Act passed earlier this year.

Cassidy, who is a doctor, crafted an alternative to the Affordable Care Act back in 2017 that would have turned Medicaid into a block grant program. The alternative failed to garner enough support in the fall of 2017. 

The Louisiana senator has worked on several bipartisan proposals, including a bipartisan infrastructure law that Congress passed earlier this year. 

Politico reported Friday that Cassidy wants to make oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) a priority, including how the agency has spent money and the implementation of the No Surprises Act, which passed through the HELP Committee. 

The law has been the subject of a major legal fight between providers and HHS over how to implement an arbitration process for handling out-of-network charge disputes between payers and providers.