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January 3, 2018

Hatch announces retirement, will leave behind a health care legacy

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    Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has played an integral role in health care policy over the past few decades, on Tuesday announced that he will not run for re-election this year, raising questions about who could replace him.

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    Hatch, who according to CNN is the Senate's longest serving Republican, will serve out the remainder of his current term, which will end in early 2019.

    Hatch's health policy legacy

    Hatch during his four decades in Congress has helped to advance major health care legislation. For instance, Hatch:

    • Helped to advance the Orphan Drug Act in the 1980s;
    • Helped to draft and advance a 1984 law, known as the Hatch-Waxman Act, that established FDA's approval procedures for generic drugs; and
    • Sponsored legislation with former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) that created CHIP in 1997.

    In 2009, Hatch also played a large role in bipartisan negotiations on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before it was approved by Congress and signed into law in 2010. According to Axios' "Vitals," Hatch's support for the ACA "consistently seemed like a long shot" throughout the negotiations, and he ultimately "dropped out" of the talks. Hatch has been a vocal critic of the ACA and has been a leading voice in Republican efforts to repeal the law, CQ News reports. According to CQ News, Hatch helped to include a provision that eliminated the ACA's individual mandate penalty in a GOP tax reform bill President Trump signed into law late last month.

    Before he leaves office, Hatch will play a key role in negotiations on a long-term CHIP reauthorization and preside over a hearing next week for Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee for HHS secretary. The position has been unfilled since September 2017, when former HHS Secretary Tom Price stepped down over his use of private plans for work-related travel.

    According to CQ News, Hatch also would play a key role in legislation related to Medicare and Medicaid—two programs House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has suggested are a top priority for Republicans this year.

    Hatch's possible replacements

    Hatch's departure from Congress raises questions about who could replace him both in the Senate and as the Senate Finance Committee's chair.

    According to "Vitals," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who now lives in Utah, is expected to run for Hatch's Senate seat. While serving as Massachusetts' governor, Romney helped to implement a health care law in the state that served as a model for the ACA. Romney, who was the Republican presidential nominee in the 2012 election, also has been critical of President Trump, CNN reports.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)—who previously has served as both the chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and currently chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee—currently is the next Republican in line to chair the Senate Finance Committee, though according to Politico's "Pulse," it is unclear whether Grassley would assume the role. Grassley on Monday said, "You know what? You need to ask me that question in about a year from now, or maybe 10 months from now." He added, "There's so many things that enter into that. No. 1, will [Republicans] still be in the majority?"

    If Grassley declines to take Hatch's position on the Senate Finance Committee, the role then likely would be offered to Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), "Pulse" reports. Crapo currently chairs the Senate Banking Committee, and would have to leave that post to assume Hatch's position on the Finance Committee (Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 1/3; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 1/3; Siddons, CQ News, 1/2 [subscription required]; Martin, New York Times, 1/2; Reston, CNN, 1/2).

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