President-elect Joe Biden’s new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan includes money for boosting subsidies to help pay down the costs of Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange plans, bolstering supplies and for vaccine distribution.
The American Relief Plan, announced late Thursday, includes new investments in supplies for strapped hospitals, money for vaccines and testing and seeks to give front-line healthcare workers new federal protections.
A key pillar of the plan is $20 billion for a national vaccine program that partners with state and local governments. The plan will launch community vaccination centers around the country and mobile units for any hard-to-reach areas.
“We must ensure that those on the ground have what they need to get vaccinations into people’s arms,” the plan said.
Biden will also work with Congress to expand the federal matching rate to 100% for the administration of vaccines to ensure that all Medicaid enrollees get vaccinated.
The call for more vaccine funding comes amid criticism from some provider groups that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needs a more coordinated plan for the distribution of the vaccine.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar blamed states and localities for the slow rollout of vaccines, saying states have been too prescriptive in only giving vaccines to certain priority groups even though the federal government left distribution up to states.
Biden’s plan also calls for $50 billion for testing and give funding to purchase rapid tests and expand capacity.
The president-elect also seeks to expand the public health workforce with money to hire 100,000 public health workers.
“These individuals will be hired to work in their local communities to perform vital tasks like vaccine outreach and contact tracing in the near term,” the plan said.
Hospitals could also be aided by a plan to invest $30 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund that will ensure sufficient supplies and personal protective equipment.
Hospitals have been under constant strain to get enough PPE, ventilators and other supplies such as critical drugs since the onset of the pandemic. Hospital finances have also been strained as the costs for such supplies have skyrocketed.
Biden will call for another $10 billion to expand domestic manufacturing of any supplies, a nod to problems with the overreliance of foreign manufacturing for the needed supplies. Some hospital systems have even bought stakes in domestic manufacturers of PPE to ensure they have enough supplies.
Another major boost for providers is a directive from Biden to Congress to authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a COVID-19 protection standard that shields workers from unsafe working conditions and retaliation related to the pandemic.
Nurses unions such as National Nurses United have pushed OSHA to deliver this standard amid concerns that nurses are fighting the virus under unsafe working conditions in some facilities.
Biden inserts other major healthcare priorities in the plan, chiefly a bid to expand and increase the value of the subsidies for ACA exchange plans. He doesn’t want any ACA enrollees to not pay more than 8.5% of their income for coverage.
It remains unclear what parts of Biden's plan could get through Congress, although money for vaccine distribution likely will have bipartisan support. The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package passed late last year also included money for vaccinations.
But prospects did improve for the plan since Democrats took control of the Senate. Democrats could also pass parts of the plan through a parliamentary move called reconciliation that lets budget bills pass the Senate via a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.