President Biden’s health care sprint begins

Good afternoon, readers.

Today marks the beginning of a health care blitz by the nascent Biden administration.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden began long-expected moves to undo several health care policies and administrative directives enacted by the Trump administration. While these steps are cloaked in the fog of the COVID pandemic, they also show a lens into Biden’s thinking on health policy at large and the direction he wants to take it.

On the COVID front, the administration is set to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance marketplaces, which provide subsidized coverage for people who don’t have insurance through an employer or other public program like Medicare.

With millions of Americans losing their jobs over the course of the pandemic, this would give people another three months to enroll during a special enrollment period. Typically, you can only sign up for insurance during a set period of months at the end of the year, a policy meant to prevent someone from only buying a plan when they’re sick.

But there’s another order Biden is issuing Thursday which could have a more long-term policy effect: Instructing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reexamine a Trump-era policy which allows states to impose work requirements on people who want to sign up for Medicaid, the health program for some of the poorest Americans. Such requirements have been previously struck down in the courts and will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. Other changes include loosening restrictions on federal funding for clinics which provide abortions.

Many of these orders have to trickle down the rungs of the administrative state and likely make their way through the legal process.

But the American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest physician trade group, praised the initial moves. “Opening the ACA exchanges provides a crucial lifeline at a time when people are losing insurance because of job layoffs as a result of the pandemic,” said the organization in a statement. “We also applaud the Administration’s move to eliminate barriers to Medicaid enrollment, which will repair holes in the health care safety net.”

More widespread changes will require Congressional action given that administrative policies don’t carry the same staying power as a law, as proven by Biden’s undoing of Trump-era regulations.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee

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