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Biden COVID-19 Plan Vague on Health Coverage Details

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President Joseph Biden is setting up a team to find out what the federal government can do to help people use their commercial health coverage to pay for COVID-19 testing and care.

General provisions relating to commercial health coverage for COVID-19 testing and care, and efforts to help uninsured and underinsured people pay for COVID-19 testing and care, are part of a new, 200-page plan the Biden administration posted on the web today.

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Biden presented the plan at a White House event that included Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said during the event, which was streamed live on the web.

More than 400,000 people have already died from COVID-19, and about 3,000 to 4,000 people are now dying from COVID-19 each day, Biden said.

“The death toll will likely top 500,000 next month,” Biden said. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months for us to turn this around.”

The heart of the plan is an effort to deliver 100 million COVID-19 vaccination shots during the Biden administration’s first 100 days in office, Biden said.

Much of the plan deals with the mechanics of creating and distributing vaccines that protect people against the virus that causes COVID-19, and shoring up financing for international pandemic response programs.

The authors of the plan take a cautious approach to describing what the Biden administration intends to do about COVID-19-related health coverage.

The administration of former President Donald Trump came in talking about wanting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and ended up operating within the statutory framework created by the ACA and earlier health system change laws, such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 2016.

Here’s what the Biden administration says about the executive orders it will use to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Establishing the National Pandemic Testing Board and Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats.”

This order sets up a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board, which will be chaired by a new COVID-19 response coordinator and that official’s designees. The members of the board will come from government agencies designated by the president.

The first COVID-19 response coordinator is Jeff Zients, a former management consultant who may be best known for leading to the effort to help HealthCare.gov, the federal government’s Affordable Care Act public exchange enrollment and administration system, overcome technical problems.

One administration goal is to ensure “a clarity of messaging about the use of tests and insurance coverage,” according to the text of the order.

The order states that the Treasury secretary, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the secretary of Labor will work with the COVID-19 response coordinator to “facilitate the provision of COVID-19 testing free of charge to those who lack comprehensive health insurance” and “clarify group health plans’ and health insurance issuers’ obligations to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing.”

“Improving and Expanding Access to Care and Treatments for COVID-19.”

In this order, the Biden administration directs the HHS secretary to evaluate the COVID-19 uninsured program, and “take any available steps to promote access to treatments and clinical care for those without adequate coverage, to support safety-net providers in delivering such treatments and clinical care, and to make the program easy to use and accessible for patients and providers, with information about the program widely disseminated.”

The administration also directs the HHS secretary to “evaluate Medicare, Medicaid, group health plans, and health insurance issuers, and take any available steps to promote insurance coverage for safe and effective COVID-19 treatments and clinical care.”

“Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery.”

This order sets up a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force that will help other federal agencies “assess pandemic response plans and policies to determine whether personal protective equipment, tests, vaccines, therapeutics, and other resources have been or will be allocated equitably,” and address the “disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality in certain communities,” along with “any barriers that have restricted access to preventive measures, treatment, and other health services for high-risk populations.”

“Ensuring a Data-Driven Response to COVID-19 and Future High-Consequence Public Health Threats.”

In this order, officials talk about efforts to improve and expand efforts to collect and analyze pandemic data, in part to look at how the pandemic is affecting communities of color and other high-risk groups.

In the plan document, outside of the Data-Driven Response executive order, officials say one data goal, for commercially insured populations, will be for HHS to “support efforts by insurers, pharmacies, labs, state immunization offices and other entities to maximize the availability of data by race, ethnicity, geography, disability and other sociodemographic factors, as feasible.”

— Read White House COVID-19 Trackers Repeat Warning About U.S. Variantson ThinkAdvisor.

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