President Biden and his team did their homework leading up to the Inauguration. They are hitting the ground running with their comprehensive plan to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, released January 21. They know that the American people fear for our health, our healthcare system, our very lives, and now (at least on cable and social media) even our very nation.
Let’s look at Biden’s plan and what it means for healthcare reform.
Key Features of President Biden’s Pandemic Plan
Here are some key features of President Biden’s plan to tackle the pandemic:
1. All-of-government command structure: President Biden’s Executive Order, issued hours after his inauguration, created the position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator, reporting directly to him. This position will coordinate with the senior advisors on both domestic policy and global policy, which oversee all federal Departments and agencies. This inter-agency authority will utilize a command structure modeled after FEMA’s Incident Command Structure, advocated by this blog. President Biden is also activating the Defense Production Act to put the effort on a wartime footing.
2. Emergency paid sick leave: This will provide funds to allow low-wage workers to afford to quarantine, possibly in a hotel separate from their family if necessary. This provision is described in the White House’s Build Back Better fact sheet on the “American Rescue Plan” (page 7). The fact sheet cites an October 2020 study in Health Affairs showing that paid sick leave reduced new COVID-19 cases by 400 per state per day.
3. Funding for public health agencies: President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will fund state, local, Tribal and territorial public health agencies. These are the boots-on-the-ground in the fight.
4. Expansion of the Affordable Care Act: President Biden is expected to provide a special enrollment period for new applicants in the federal insurance marketplaces. This will afford income-adjusted subsidies for individual to enroll via the HealthCare.gov website. This will give access to care for groups especially hard hit by the pandemic.
5. Targeting high-risk settings: This includes long-term care facilities, prisons, and crowded workplaces, which have been hot spots for spreading COVID-19 into their communities.
I conclude that President Biden is indeed guided by public-health science, as he has promised, but also by sound political science.
What Does This Have to Do with Healthcare Reform?
American have had a distrust toward government since Colonial times. President Ronald Reagan famously crystallized this attitude in his 1981 inaugural address with his line that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” as cited in a previous post. This libertarian mantra appears to have underlain the Trump Administration’s laissez faire approach to the pandemic.
President Biden’s approach to the pandemic provides a sharp contrast by doing the opposite — mobilizing all-of-government. This 180-degree turn will provide the closest we can get to a “controlled experiment,” pitting the two approaches against each other.
If Biden’s new approach does bring down the COVID-19 case counts and does help American regain their economic footing – especially those most affected – this will provide a compelling argument for healthcare reform based on mobilizing the full faith and clout of government. Deeds and results will then speak louder than any words for healthcare reform – or than these blog posts!
Meanwhile, President Biden seems to understand what’s at stake. He seems to get that this is not just about controlling the pandemic, though that’s huge. He seems to understand that this is not even just about healthcare reform, though that’s monumental. This is about restoring Americans’ faith in their very democratic system, as noted by many commentators, including the New Yorker.
That’s probably why Goal 1 in his “National Strategy for COVID-19” is earning the trust of the American people. Guided by his insight and experience, President Biden’s first step — before issuing his first executive order – was to deliberately, intentionally and explicitly commit to truth and transparency. Those are his “3 T’s”: trust, truth, and transparency.
I’ll give him credit for a fourth T: Trying!
But first, Congress needs to enact Biden’s plan. This blog urges readers to contact their Representatives and Senators to pass it. And then, take more action!
Title: President Joe Biden, Iowa, 2019
By: Gage Skidmore
License: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons