Here's What the Midterm Elections Could Mean for Science and Healthcare

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If you're into politics (or you aren't, but you follow Taylor Swift's Instagram), you know the big news of the week is the upcoming midterms.

On Nov. 6, voters will get to decide the makeup of the entire House of Representatives, along with one-third of the Senate. And if you're in one of the 36 states holding governor races, voters will get to weigh in on state politics, too.

So why do midterms matter so much?

Because Congress has the ability to introduce new legislation. While the president can sign legislation so it becomes law – and take some actions himself by executive order – Congress can actually create and pass bills. The senate also gets to approve judicial appointments (including supreme court nominees) which gives them power over the court system.

A handful of hot button issues, like healthcare and immigration, dominate the conversation surrounding the election. But the outcome of the midterms has an impact on science, medicine and your access to healthcare as well.

Response to Climate Change

Between wildfires across California and hurricanes Florence and Michael hitting the east coast, it's been a rough year dealing with natural disasters. And, unfortunately, climate change means extreme weather events are likely to get worse.

So what's the political divide on climate change? While outright climate change denial is rare nowadays, some politicians – like Rep. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida – question whether human activity is driving the change (spoiler alert: it is). And 50 Republican and two Democratic senators voted to approve Scott Pruitt – who said in February that climate change may help "humans flourish" – as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are a few possibilities for how the midterms might affect climate change. One industry expert notes that, if Democrats are able to take the House of Representatives, they're likely to introduce legislation to fight climate change. On the other hand, if relatively climate-friendly moderate republicans lose their seats, it could be harder to pass bipartisan climate laws, if democrats don't have the votes to pass legislation themselves.

Research Funding and Public Health

Health research has been a controversial issue for President Trump. His draft for the 2018 federal budget slashed the both the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute's budgets by nearly 20 percent each.

He also proposed scrapping $192 million dollars of funding for nutrition research and healthy eating, and cutting $403 from a program that helps students become medical professionals.

Republicans broke with the president and actually increased the budget for science agencies. But agencies need to negotiate their budgets regularly, which means a new Congress could allocate more (or less!) money to support science. Those decisions could impact the amount of government-funded health research, as well as agency grants given to professors and students and universities.

Healthcare for Young Adults

Healthcare is the biggest issue heading into the election, and one that you've probably heard a lot about. But there's one under-discussed aspect that could affect your health coverage.

The controversy stems from a lawsuit filed in Texas that claims that certain parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are unconstitutional. The ACA has been questioned in court before, and the Supreme Court ruled earlier that the individual mandate – the part of the ACA that says you need to have health insurance or you'll pay a tax penalty – was constitutional.

But here's the twist. When Congress passed the tax bill last year, they zeroed out the tax penalty. And now a group of attorneys and two Republican governors are arguing that the individual mandate is no longer a tax, and therefore it's unconstitutional.

So how could this affect you? Well, the Department of Justice has decided not to defend several aspects of the ACA – including the part of the law that ensures you're covered on your parents' insurance until you're 26. If the court sides with the justice department, it means insurers don't have to cover you under your parents plan – so you could end up needing to get your own insurance earlier.

While your vote can't directly sway the court or impact the lawsuit, Congress does have the power to pass legislation that affects your insurance coverage – and pass tax bills that don't have these potential loopholes.

So get out and vote! Ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to you – whether that's access to healthcare, protecting the planet or something else entirely – and show up at the polls to make your voice heard.


About the Author

Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.