- In his address to Congress last week, President Joe Biden highlighted the country's successful vaccination program and announced a $1.8 trillion family aid investment.
- No Medicare expansion was announced, but it’s still possible for that program to be part of the next 100 days.
- Investments in child care and broadband internet access should have positive health-related benefits downstream.
- Many inequities still exist in the healthcare system. Experts are hopeful that additional spending will help level the playing field.
President Joe Biden outlined a series of recovery efforts in a joint address to Congress to mark his first 100 days in office.
One major success of Biden’s time in office thus far has been vaccinations. Biden initially promised 100 million vaccinations in his 100 days in office. The United States exceeded 200 million vaccinations in that time frame.
The president also announced a $1.8 trillion family aid platform, known as the American Families Plan, that aims to help families with child care.
As the country rounds the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration has shown glimpses of what to expect in the months to come.
No Medicare expansion announced
While there was some speculation that the president would announce an expansion of the Medicare program, it wasn’t mentioned in his speech.
This doesn’t mean the item isn’t on the table, though, according to an expert interviewed by Healthline.
“Although Biden didn’t include the Medicare expansion in his American Families Plan, we still expect to see a lot of growth in this area,” Brian Colburn, senior vice president of corporate development and strategy at Alegeus, a consumer-directed healthcare platform, told Healthline.
“Medicare Advantage, in particular, is the fastest-growing segment of the health benefits industry and has proven to be an effective model for containing costs,” he said.
“Legislative changes in recent years around supplemental benefits have allowed for more personalized coverage for consumers and a tremendous market opportunity for health plans. It’s possible that Medicare expansion could still happen during Biden’s administration, so it bears watching,” Colburn added.
Colburn also said the pandemic has shown the benefits of virtual healthcare, and that this trend will likely continue.
“I think from a cost and convenience perspective, the virtual model is here to stay, at least for many routine care needs,” he said.
“New technology — in particular, remote patient monitoring — is fast becoming the new standard of care, especially for those with chronic conditions,” Colburn said.
Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health, told Healthline that the American Families Plan should lead to better health outcomes.
Helping people with child care, early childhood education, and financial support for college will all help improve public health, he said.
“That toxic stress that happens because you cannot find child care, the ability to work being compromised because of all of the social stressors and upstream issues that impact people’s lives, have downstream impact on mental health and behavioral health along with physical health conditions,” Elnahal said.
He explained that this extra assistance should allow healthcare systems to better meet the needs of their patients.
While the country’s vaccination program has been excellent, Elnahal pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole has shined a light on healthcare disparities.
“We have a situation where COVID-19 is the number one cause of death for Black and brown people in this country, while it’s the number three cause of death in the general population,” he noted. “That has a lot to do with systemic inequities and racism that has plagued the system for decades.”
Elnahal also said that certain aspects of Biden’s speech — such as the expansion of broadband internet access — have a positive effect when it comes to healthcare.
As Colburn also noted, telehealth appears to be the way of the future. Good internet access is necessary if the goal is to supply equitable services to as many people as possible.
Finally, Elnahal said, these investments in public health should lead to more equitable health outcomes for all Americans.
“As we proceed through vaccinations and increasing confidence in vaccinations, we’ve had to contend with the very good reasons why people of color do not trust the medical establishment,” he explained.
“It isn’t just examples like Tuskegee and the legacies of racism within the healthcare system historically. It continues to be there with implicit bias and phenomena where people do not get the acute care they need because their concerns aren’t listened to by healthcare providers on the front line. A lot of that is completely unwitting on the part of frontline healthcare providers, but it’s a product of systemic inequities,” Elnahal said.
Just as COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color, so too do other conditions stemming from healthcare inequities.
Elnahal said Biden’s stimulus plan could help the country round the corner.
“Now that we know that you can get your act together as a government and meet an urgent healthcare challenge, let’s talk about late-stage breast cancer in Black women. Let’s talk about rectal cancer and colon cancer in Black men and women, diagnosed at much later stages on average than the general population,” Elnahal said.
“Those are problems that can also be solved, and we expect you to solve them. And so when it comes to direct funding and support for solving these healthcare issues for vulnerable communities, we will do a lot to lose trust again if we do not continue the investment in public health for the community we serve and start, finally, solving some of these health problems,” he said.