Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a longtime advocate for civil rights and a leader in the Democratic caucus, died early Thursday at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate, due to "complications concerning longstanding health challenges," his office confirmed.
Cummings, who served as chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, had been experiencing a number of health conditions, including complications from heart surgery, since at least 2017, according to the Post. Cummings earlier this week underwent an unspecified medical procedure, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Cummings' health care legacy
Before joining Congress, Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates for 14 years, from 1983 to 1996. As a delegate, Cummings pushed for a ban on alcohol and tobacco advertisements on inner-city billboards in Baltimore, which marked the first ban of its kind in a major U.S. city, the Post reports.
Cummings in 1996 won a special election to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), who left Congress to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In Congress, Cummings advanced legislation to reform health care and spearheaded legislation on and an investigation into prescription drug pricing.
For instance, Cummings advocated for allowing the federal government to negotiate prices for drugs covered under Medicare. In January, as chair of House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings launched an investigation into how prescription drug companies set prices for their products.
Cummings in January also introduced legislative package intended to lower prescription drug costs in the United States. The package includes three bills:
- The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act (HR 2228), which would allow U.S. residents, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import lower-cost drugs from Canada and other developed countries;
- The Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act (S 41), which would allow the HHS secretary to negotiate prices for drugs covered under Medicare Part D; and
- The Prescription Drug Relief Act, which would set U.S. drug prices based on the median prices in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and require FDA to approve generic versions of the drugs—regardless of whether the drugs are protected by patents—if drugmakers refuse to lower prices to meet the new target.
During his time in Congress, Cumming also introduced or supported measures to improve access to asthma treatments, dental care, and substance use disorder treatments. Cummings described his 2010 vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act as the "most important vote in [his] career," citing the health coverage gains under the law and improvements in health care access.
Federal lawmakers on Thursday morning expressed their condolences.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) on CNN said, "My heart is broken. Elijah Cummings had unmatched integrity, wisdom. You couldn't spend five minutes with Elijah Cummings without feeling impacted deeply by his guidance, by his values."
Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) in a tweet wrote said, "Cummings was a good friend and a powerful advocate for what he believed. The last time I saw him, he thanked me again for working with his friend, Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress."
President Trump in a tweet also offered his condolences. "My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!" (Portnoy, Washington Post, 10/17; Barker, Baltimore Sun, 10/16; AP/CNBC, 10/7; Andrews, Wall Street Journal, 10/17; Cummings Congressional website, accessed 10/17).