Published: February 26, 2021

Legislative Outlook for the 117th Congressional Session

As the 117th U.S. Congress convenes and a new Administration with President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. at the helm gets underway, the country is facing a major political shift in power.

Getty Images 155377752As the 117th U.S. Congress convenes and a new Administration with President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. at the helm gets underway, the country is facing a major political shift in power. This shift will have broad-reaching impacts across many industries, including healthcare. With the Democratic Party possessing a majority in both chambers of the legislative branch, though narrow in the Senate, as well as the executive branch, we are sure to see a transformation in the management of the coronavirus pandemic and healthcare reform priorities. The thin Democratic majority in the Senate is attributed to the runoff election in Georgia where Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff triumphed over GOP incumbents Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue, respectively. With these two wins on January 6, 2020, Vice President Kamala D. Harris serves as the tie-breaking vote in the Senate for the 117th Congress, over a chamber split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. 

In the 116th Congress, the Academy’s leadership, legislative member advocates, and Advocacy team worked together to achieve significant otolaryngology-related federal legislative “wins” including: 

  • mitigated the negative effects of the CY 2021 physician fee schedule’s budget neutrality rules resulting in an estimated overall 8% increase in Medicare payments for otolaryngologists in 2021
  • fought to protect patient safety and ensured audiologists were not inappropriately granted unlimited direct access to Medicare patients without a physician referral
  • secured changes to enacted Surprise Billing legislation to include an Independent Dispute Resolution process and elimination of the use of Medicare or Medicaid comparator rates during arbitration
  • obtained aid for Academy members and their practices in multiple COVID-19 relief packages that became law in 2020

The Academy is eager to build off these legislative successes from the previous Congress to further protect and bolster the specialty moving forward. President Biden is now leading the U.S. response against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which will likely drive near-term legislative priorities. The Democratic party is pushing a Coronavirus stimulus relief bill that will likely pass the House and faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The stimulus package includes provisions that would provide funds toward vaccinations, add an additional $7 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, and make federal premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies more generous. The AAO-HNS will continue to steadfastly advocate for the specialty and physicians as the new Administration and Congress pursue building on the Affordable Care Act, broader Medicare reform, and implementing regulations to enact the new surprise billing law. While single payor healthcare and larger sweeping healthcare reforms are possible, given the narrow majority that the Democratic Party possesses in both chambers, changes of this magnitude are now less likely. 

As we navigate the contours of a new Congress and Administration, the Academy stands ready to fight for otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeons and the patients you serve. The AAO-HNS is currently meeting with new lawmakers to help educate them on the specialty’s legislative priorities. As impactful legislation begins to be introduced on Capitol Hill, watch for upcoming opportunities to contact your Congressional representatives and senators to make your voice heard! 

More from March 2021 – Vol. 40, No. 2