5 Things: U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s role in healthcare
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday died at age 82 after battling pancreatic cancer. He will be remembered in part as a champion for many healthcare issues, from expanding insurance options for Americans to the creation of a national ALS registry. The former Senate Majority and Minority Leader, who represented Nevada, retired in 2016 after a long political career marked as a dynamic and outspoken Democrat.
- The Affordable Care Act: Reid—along with Rep. Nancy Pelosi—is recognized as steering the ACA through a sticky Congress to an eventual presidential signature in March 2010. Reid later blocked multiple attempts by Republicans to roll back parts of the health law that expanded Medicaid, created insurance exchanges and put value-based care implementation into hyper gear.
- Suicide prevention: Reid was a champion of suicide prevention, first telling the story of his father, who died by suicide, in the mid-90s before the issue lacked the awareness it holds today. In 1997, Reid introduced a senate resolution that both declared suicide a national problem and prevention a national priority. He also pushed the surgeon general in 1999 to create the Call to Action to Prevent Suicide report.
- Disease registry: In 1998, Congress passed the ALS Registry Act, which created a national database of cases that helps researchers estimate the number of new Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis cases each year and monitor for potential risk factors for the disease that is still largely hard to diagnose in its early stages. Reid sponsored the legislation, which eventually garnered 77 co-sponsors and bipartisan support.
- Abortion: Reid was against abortion—except in certain cases—and in 2015 his ideas were operationalized. During the Congressional confirmation process of previous Attorney General Loretta Lynch in 2015, Senate Republicans held up a vote by sticking in an anti-abortion provision inside an anti-human trafficking bill. Reid at the time told Senate Republicans that he was going to force Democrats to vote for the trafficking bill, or allow the GOP to vote against Lynch. Eventually, other Congressional leaders struck a deal and both the bill was passed and Lynch was confirmed.
- The Children’s Health Insurance program expansion: Reid was instrumental in the expansion of CHIP to include children under age 18 living in households with incomes less than 133% of the federal poverty level – a big bump from previous eligibility – and in smoothing the enrollment process. President George W. Bush vetoed a narrower version of the expansion that Reid pushed, and the senator eventually sponsored many amendments to bills to extend reauthorization funding for the program in later years.