KHN’s “What the Health?”: The Biden Health Agenda

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President Joe Biden wasted no time getting to work. Among the numerous directives he signed on the day of inauguration were several aimed at containing the Covid crisis, including one that required federal employees and people on federal properties to wear masks for the next 100 days.

With the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris and the swearing-in of two new Democratic Senators from Georgia, the Democrats took a majority in the Senate, albeit with a 50:50 tie. This is the first time since 2010 that the Democrats are responsible for both the legislature and the executive. With such close majorities, however, it could be difficult to advance many of the key items on the Biden health agenda, starting with an expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner from KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein from Politico, Tami Luhby from CNN and Sarah Karlin-Smith from Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • While Biden can make certain changes to federal policy in the fight against Covid-19, much of what he outlined in his plan requires action by Congress, and Senate Republicans don’t seem ready to support a larger legislative package yet.
  • Many of the efforts against Covid that Biden announced are initiatives that were recommended and not implemented by public health officials over the past year. However, the discovery of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus may require faster efforts to spread vaccines and other measures.
  • Wearing masks and other simple public health practices can have a huge impact on slowing the spread of Covid, but much of the public is looking for a vaccine for help. These supplies remain limited and it is not clear whether Biden’s interest in using the Defense Production Act to compel industry to support it will increase vaccine production.
  • Successful vaccination is hampered by unreliable estimates of expected delivery quantities and a patchwork of registration methods and approval criteria.
  • Actions Biden and a Democratic Congress could take to reverse the guidelines put in place by the Trump administration include stepping up enforcement of Covid rules in the workplace to keep employees from spreading the disease and restoring a sentence for lack of insurance for lawsuit to threaten affordable care The law would become contentious, repealing rules that require federal scholars to be reviewed.
  • The Senate has not yet scheduled a hearing to confirm Xavier Becerra, Biden’s election as Secretary for Health and Human Services. Before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol this month, it was believed that setting up a new federal health team would be the president’s priority, but national security came first after the violence.
  • Controlling drug prices is an issue very popularly supported, but Congress disagrees on how to do it. The sweeping measure that the House passed in 2019 is unlikely to fly again in the Senate, but Senators could try a more humble proposal based on a bipartisan measure previously proposed by Sens. Chuck Grassley ( R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden was offered (D-Erz).
  • Drug users have generally put the most effort into price controls, but there may be growing interest within the industry in working out a bipartisan deal that they can get involved in rather than waiting to see what the Democrats can push through.

As an added bonus, panelists recommend their favorite health stories of the week that they think you should also read:

Julie Rovner: The “Pramila Jayapal” of the Atlantic is “Next-Level” Angry “by Elaine Godfrey

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times “New Emerging Coronavirus Variants” May Present Vaccines with Challenges, “by Apoorva Mandavilli

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Vanity Fair’s “A Tsunami of Chance”: How Trump’s COVID Chaos Drowned the FDA in Junk Science “by Katherine Eban

Tami Luhby: KHN’s “Black Americans Are Vaccinated At Lower Rates Than White Americans” by Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber

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