Biden’s Covid plan has been strong – but the storm isn’t over yet

The 100th day of a term is an important milestone. The first 100 days also provide a narrow but critical political window in which high approval ratings and political momentum can help launch ambitious policy agendas.

Day 101 is practically no different than Day 99. The work always goes on.

This is certainly true of President Joe Biden, who has experienced a historic – and in many ways horrifying – first 100 days like no other. Biden began his tenure with a public desperate for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and scrambling to find vaccination dates while struggling to keep a job, pay rent and put food on the table.

So far, Biden has largely delivered on his promise to bring relief to as many Americans as possible through his stimulus package from Covid-19 and to meet his goal of 200 million shots in 100 days. But every administration knows that day 101 is practically no different from day 99. The work always goes on.

As Biden’s administration moves into the next 100 days, it faces an America that is nowhere near over pandemic hill. Indeed, the work goes on – particularly when it comes to health care and policy.

He can start with the broken and dysfunctional healthcare system that almost collapsed in 2020 under the burden of Covid-19.

Beginning February 15, Biden allowed millions of uninsured Americans to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during a special enrollment window (outside the usual health insurance purchase window). This window closes on August 15th.

In addition, the recently passed US bailout includes provisions that subsidize health insurance premiums in the market for people whose income is below 150 percent of the federal poverty line. An individual making $19,000 will have no bonus payments, and a family of four making $90,000 will see their bonuses drop by $200 per month.

Crushing equity costs and premium hikes are sure to haunt Biden.

But those subsidies and provisions expire after two years, and crushing capex and premium hikes are sure to haunt Biden. A study published by the Commonwealth Fund in April 2020 found that “In 2017, 1 in 100 Americans under the age of 64 spent $5,000 or more out of pocket on medical services and about 1 in 20 spent more than $1,700.” The pandemic has compounded the impact on lower- and middle-class Americans.

Solutions will not be easy. Biden is facing pressure from all sides and has already backed down on bold prescription drug pricing language. Now is not the time to be cautious.

The government should push for better drug prices and continue to allow patients to treat themselves at home via video or have more time with their doctors to address prevention, something that is neglected in our current model of healthcare. Ironically, doctors are often paid more to treat the consequences of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke than to prevent those diseases from occurring in the first place.

In short, simply adding more people to health insurance without properly fixing the system can only make the problem worse.

Beyond health insurance, the Biden administration needs to get serious about health equity.

It has already appointed various leaders, including the chair of the Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and Health Minister Xavier Becerra. And the White House has increased funding for programs like those offered by the Office of Minority Health.

It may not be a particularly “sexy” subject area, and other public crises constantly attract financial and media attention. But health inequality in America has remained remarkably consistent — that is, consistently bad.

Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Your zip code matters more than your genetic code when it comes to your health: Two people living 10 miles apart can have a 33-year difference in life expectancy.

Health inequality in America has remained remarkably consistent — that is, consistently bad.

Last but not least, Biden needs to take drug use and mental health infrastructure as seriously as bridges and tunnels.

The Biden administration has rightly requested billions for pandemic preparedness, but the number of drug overdose deaths calls for many tens of thousands of deaths in a single year. According to research from the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.

We deinstitutionalized mental health and moved away from the dreadful institutions long ago, but we have not adequately funded accessible community-based models of care. As a result, we are seeing a record number of people with mild to severe mental illness.

Young people struggle the most with their mental health. Not only is the number of young people seeking help for their mental health increasing, but throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, children aged 11 to 17 have had moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression more often than any other age group , Mental Health America reports.

At national turning points – whether due to war, economic crisis, civil unrest or a raging pandemic – the President is personally tested. Biden’s overall success will depend not only on how he handles the pandemic recovery, but what kind of nation emerges from our months of virus, fear and death.

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