Hello, patient advocates! Dr. Angus Worthing, chair of the American College of Rheumatology’s Government Affairs Committee, here to give you an update on the recent midterm elections and their implications for healthcare in the next Congress.

After a long and exhausting election season, the midterms are finally over, and Democrats have picked up 40 seats in the House of Representatives to take the majority. Republicans will still control the Senate, promising two years of divided government.

This year’s midterm election saw levels of voter turnout unseen in decades. Around 116 million Americans cast a ballot, a nine-percentage point increase from the last midterm election cycle. With such unprecedented numbers of people going to the polls, one can’t help but wonder what drove them there in the first place. What issues did voters care about the most?

The short answer: healthcare. Exit poll after exit poll demonstrated that Americans are more concerned about healthcare than any other issue, even hot-button topics like immigration, gun control, and the economy. Indeed, over 69 percent of voters said that our healthcare system needs “major changes.”

These numbers, while staggering, are not surprising. Improving healthcare was a central campaign issue for many of the newly elected representatives, and now they will face the enormous challenge of delivering on those promises.

So, what are the “major changes” to our healthcare system that voters are looking for, and what can Congress do to implement them?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer, and as we’ve discussed in this forum, the problems facing our current healthcare system are vast. That being said, there is one pressing issue that concerns both sides of the aisle: the rising cost of prescription drugs.

This is an issue the new Congress must address as the cost of drugs has increased substantially over the past decade, driving up patients’ out-of-pocket expenditures and comprising roughly $1 out of every $6 in Medicare spending according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

What’s more, the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs has led millions of adults to skip taking their medications rather than struggle to meet these high prices. This means too many Americans who suffer from debilitating rheumatic diseases are unable to afford the medication they need.

With the midterms now behind us, we look forward to working with all members of Congress to improve patient access and implement policies that make it easier to live well with rheumatic disease. If you haven’t already, please consider signing our Patient Pledge and joining us to advocate for access to quality rheumatologic care.

Dr. Angus Worthing