By John Bitzegaio and V. Susan Hutchinson
On January 28, 2021, President Joe Biden took two actions related to healthcare. By signing the Executive Order on Strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act as well as issuing a Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad, Biden is already following through with his commitment on affordable and protected healthcare for all Americans.
Executive Order on Strengthening Medicaid and the ACA
President Biden’s executive order states that it is the policy of his administration to “protect and strengthen Medicaid and the ACA and to make high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for every American.” This order directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to consider a broad special enrollment period for the ACA through HealthCare.gov and review rules and policies that might impede access to ACA and Medicaid coverage. These changes demonstrate the importance of these measures in the overall pandemic response.
The new special enrollment period is scheduled from February 15 to May 15, 2021. HHS also plans to spend $50 million on outreach and education programs. These two efforts alone will enable millions of uninsured Americans to enroll in comprehensive coverage.
The special enrollment period is the only specific action directed by the executive order. However, President Biden also directs federal agencies to re-examine policies and practices that undermine protections for pre-existing conditions, waivers that reduce coverage, barriers to enrollment, and affordability and financial assistance. This review should extend to all existing regulations, orders, guidance, policies, and any other agency actions to ensure that all are consistent with the executive order.
HCDP Chair Don Kohn thinks this executive order is “A breath of fresh air and shows that President Biden is committed to his promise of healthcare for all.” Kohn is also pleased to see Biden emphasize women’s health concerns as part of his plan.
SCDP Chair Trav Robertson, in an exclusive interview, also applauds Biden’s executive action. However, Robertson said, “Medicaid is a state issue so Governor McMaster and the GOP controlled South Carolina Statehouse need to vote to expand it now.” Robertson continued by saying “South Carolinians are in desperate need of assistance, especially during this pandemic and the vaccine roll out.”
“The GOP in Horry County needs to understand they can’t fail when it comes to getting South Carolina seniors, and others at risk, vaccinated as soon as possible.”, Robertson said. Implementing Biden’s executive order at the state level is crucial for everyone in South Carolina to relieve the stress on already overburdened hospital emergency rooms and the entire healthcare system, Robertson concluded.
Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health
The memorandum on protecting women’s health and bolstering access to reproductive healthcare is a directive designed to protect women’s healthcare at home and abroad as well as promote access to reproductive care. It rescinds the global gag rule and directs HHS to consider whether to suspend, revise, or rescind restrictive regulations under the Title X family planning program.
Under the Trump administration, HHS barred the participation of providers that make referrals for abortion services, required pregnant patients to be referred to prenatal services, and required physical and financial separation from abortion services. These rules have been challenged in court and are awaiting Supreme Court action. The Biden administration has made it clear that the policy will be rescinded or amended regardless of the settlement in the courts.
Executive orders cannot change existing law, but they can direct federal agencies to draft new rules or guidance consistent with the administration’s existing legal authority. Changes that are largely operational can be made swiftly while changes that require new rules or revisions also require notice-and-comment rulemaking processes that may take months.
Joe Biden said he would be a president for all the people. These measures to expand healthcare to everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, show he is working to be the president he promised to be.