President Joe Biden took his first steps on Thursday to expand access to healthcare in the country and review measures by the Donald Trump Administration that undermined protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Your goal is “undo the damage Trump has done”, he said at a brief ceremony at the White House in which he signed a series of executive orders.
Biden has promised that he will take advantage of the health law that former President Barack Obama promoted to achieve that more people have health coverage. But to do that, he needs congressional approval, and many Republicans object.
The most concrete short-term impact of the orders signed this Thursday is the reopening of registrations in Obamacare, offering taxpayer-subsidized coverage regardless of a person’s medical history or pre-existing conditions, including coronavirus.
Biden also took steps to protect reproductive rights and expand access to abortion. The president revoked in another order the restrictions established by Trump on the use of taxpayer money for clinics that refer or advise patients to terminate pregnancies, both in the United States and abroad.
A week full of reforms
The president has resorted to executive orders in his early days in office to quickly get his agenda in motion and reverse the actions of his predecessor. He has already signed 33 measures in his first six days, such as the mandatory use of masks in federal spaces or the repeal of Trump’s ban on transgender americans join the military.
On Tuesday, his actions focused on creating a police commission and promoting fair housing policies. On Wednesday he put the spotlight on the fight against climate change presenting an ambitious plan.
This Thursday Biden focuses on measures related to access to health, which could take months to get up and running. We explain the issues on which the Department of Health and Human Services will be instructed.
Reopening of insurance markets
The greatest short-term impact will come from the reopening of the insurance markets of CuidadoDeSalud.gov by Biden, as coverage has been reduced during the economic blow caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Created under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, the marketplaces offer taxpayer-subsidized coverage regardless of a person’s medical history or previous pathologies, including COVID-19.
The new “special registration period” of the insurance market would last three months, from February 15 to May 15, according to the White House.
The idea of reopening the Obamacare health insurance markets has wide support, including from consumer groups, professional medical associations, insurers, and commercial organizations.
Although the number of uninsured Americans has risen due to job losses during the pandemic, the Trump Administration resisted calls to reopen HealthCare.gov. The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as he repeatedly promised was one of the former president’s bitterest disappointments..
The Trump administration continued to try to find ways to limit the program or tear it down entirely. This year, a Supreme Court decision is expected on the Administration’s final legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
The special enrollment opportunity is just one initial health insurance payment for Biden, who has vowed to take advantage of former President Barack Obama’s health law to push the United States toward coverage for all. For that, it would need congressional approval, and opposition to the healthcare bill is still deep among Republicans.
Removal of restrictions against abortion
Biden will also immediately reverse a federal policy that prohibits taxpayer funding for nonprofit international health care organizations that offer abortion-related counseling or services. Known as the Politics of Mexico City, it can be turned on and off depending on whether Democrats or Republicans control the White House.
The Biden administration will consider the possibility of rescind regulations of Trump banning federally funded family planning clinics from performing abortions on women. The ban on referrals led to clinics Planned Parenthood will leave the program.
The abortion-related actions will bring Biden immediate praise from reproductive rights groups, as well as condemnation from social and religious conservatives. Under former President Trump, opponents of abortion were given free rein to try to rewrite federal policy, and now the political pendulum is receding.
Biden also campaigned to repeal old federal bans against taxpayer funding for abortion.But a change of that magnitude to a group of laws known as the Hyde Amendment would require congressional approval.
Insurance for people with pre-existing conditions
Executive orders the president signs Thursday call for a review of policies that could undermine protections for people with health problems, such as a Trump Administration rule that made it easier to sell short-term health insurance plans that do not have to cover previous pathologies.
It will also reexamine a Trump Administration policy that allows states to impose work requirements as a condition for low-income individuals to obtain health insurance from Medicaid. The labor requirements have been blocked by federal judges and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter.
Can the changes Biden seeks be achieved?
The regulatory changes that Biden is asking for from federal health officials will not happen overnight because hastily written rules are more easily overridden in court, as the Trump Administration found. Time and again, federal judges ruled that Trump officials overlooked legal requirements for regulators, such as showing they have considered all the consequences.
One change made by Trump, and one that will be difficult to modify, is the elimination of the tax penalty for those without health insurance. The sanction was intended to encourage people to purchase insurance. Since the fine was removed in the 2017 tax review approved by Congress, it would have to be reinstated through legislation.
The Obama-era health care law covers more than 23 million people through a combination of subsidized private insurance sold in all states, and expanded Medicaid adopted by 38 states, with the southern states being the main exception. Coverage is available to people who don’t have health insurance from work, and the Medicaid expansion is targeting people with low incomes.
Of some 28 million Americans without health insurance before the pandemic, more than 16 million were eligible for some subsidized coverage through the health law, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
Experts agree that the number of uninsured people has increased due to layoffs caused by the economic crisis of the pandemic. It is estimated that between 5 and 10 million lost it, but the official data will be published by the Government at the end of the year.