When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris begin their new administration in January, a lot of things could change. But what would the Biden-Harris administration mean for health care? There are a few main areas that could change. Here’s an outline of things the Biden-Harris team say they want to do!
First, the Affordable Care Act could become more generous. The new administration wants to make premiums more affordable by indexing plans and increasing subsidies for those with private insurance. This sounds abstract, but would have a big impact: huge numbers of New Yorkers could see costs fall. They would also increase funding to consumer outreach, like the Community Health Advocates program, to help people sign up for coverage. Additionally, they propose what’s called a “public option” for health care coverage. The public option would be like Medicare or Medicaid: a lower cost than private insurance plans with good coverage. Unlike Medicare or Medicaid, anybody could enroll in the public option. People who are too young for Medicare or make too much money to qualify for Medicaid would have to pay a premium, but costs are lower for a public option. Bottom line: A public option would be an affordable alternative to a private health plan.
Medicare and Medicaid
Secondly, Medicare and Medicaid could cover more people. While dental, vision, and hearing coverage are not currently included in Medicare, the Biden-Harris administration would include them as Medicare benefits. They would also allow some people younger than 65 to access Medicare coverage. Medicaid may also be expanded to cover more aspects of health, which the administration could do even if Congress refuses.
Thirdly, coverage could become more available for immigrants. This could also happen even if Congress refuses. The new administration could drop the “public charge” rule that uses enrollment in benefits like food stamps to threaten immigrants’ legal status and future in this country. Importantly, dropping that rule would reassure many immigrants that they can safely enroll in health coverage. Furthermore, DACA recipients, or Dreamers, as well as undocumented immigrants could purchase coverage on ACA exchanges. They would, however, be ineligible for subsidies. Right now, immigrants are eligible to get coverage from the exchanges. But once they get coverage, this is used as a way to deny them permanent residence. Under the new administration, this rule could change, so immigrants could get the coverage they need.
Surprise Billing and Drug Costs
Fourth, surprise costs could decrease. Biden and Harris campaigned on lowering drug costs and ending surprise billing. They support giving the federal government the power to negotiate drug prices for Medicare recipients, which could result in lower drug prices for everyone. They also support ending surprise bills, although they have not said how.
Fifth, reproductive health would be more accessible. The new administration wants to ensure free contraceptive coverage for more employees. They also want to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion. Additionally, they want to formalize the right to abortion in federal law. This would allow people more certainty around access to reproductive health care.
Racial Health Disparities
Sixth, the new administration would attack racial disparities in health outcomes. They plan to focus on improving racial inequalities in maternal mortality in particular. Furthermore, they plan on releasing more data about racial inequalities in Covid outcomes. The ACA already reduced racial disparities, according to significant research. Any additional improvements to the ACA would be building on this foundation, and would reduce inequalities even further.
Seventh, and most immediately, the new administration would act on Covid. There are a few major policies under consideration. The biggest would be mandating mask-wearing nationwide. Subsidies to cover insurance costs for people who lost their jobs would also be an immediate step. A national contact tracing corps, a vaccine distribution plan, and nationwide testing are also moves the administration will make. Additionally, the administration will use the Defense Production Act to finally speed up production of PPE.
President Biden and Vice President Harris have a lot on their plates, and health care is no exception. We The Patients is looking forward to keeping up our push for patient-centered policy under the new administration!