With the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the nation, President-elect Joe Biden’s top healthcare priority will be taming the virus. His administration, however, will confront many other urgent healthcare needs, and the challenge will be how to prioritize one over another.
Succeeding an administration that talked a great game on healthcare but has little to show for it only creates even more pressure for rapid action.
As someone who works directly with people displaced by our healthcare system, the top three priorities are clear.
The nation and the world are buckling under the strain of COVID-19. Hospitals are running out of beds, physicians and nurses are shutting their practices and retiring early and fatigue has given way to exhaustion, in some cases illness, and ultimately to resignation.
The Biden administration must attempt to bring this under control. Our nation cannot sit back and wait for the leading vaccines to become broadly available. The power held by the president to shape public opinion is unrivaled. Joe Biden must use his presidential voice to tell Americans to trust health officials and scientists.
It begins with his wearing a mask and the simple request that all others follow suit. Next, Biden must demonstrate that FDA-approved vaccines—through his own actions and directives to manufacture and distribute the drugs—are our best hope for ending this crisis.
The logistical considerations for vaccine distribution are immense, given that the two top vaccine candidates require low temperatures for storage. The vaccine will be precious, and no amount can be wasted. We must get the distribution planning right, from the readiness of the cold storage supply chain to the requisite number of shatterproof vials.
Affordable Care Act
People across the political spectrum agree—the ACA has its flaws. But those flaws, many compounded by damage inflicted over the last four years, are not reason enough to scrap it. Ten years after passing the law, we now know what we can do to improve it.
The keystone of Biden’s plan is a public option, an addition to the ACA for which lower-income Americans in non-Medicaid expansion states who earn too much for Medicaid, but too little to afford their own insurance, can qualify. It is our best bet at helping people in non-expansion states gain coverage. In 2019, nearly 75% of the 30 million uninsured cited the high cost of insurance as the primary barrier to securing coverage.
Biden should prioritize—and Congress must embrace—a public option and the benefits to our national strength and psyche that it will reap. It is the missing piece of the health reform puzzle.
Social determinants of health
Recent studies are pointing to the effect on health outcomes of socioeconomic factors like access to nutrition, income, education, housing and social supports. Now is the time to make investments in this area to improve the well-being of millions of Americans as well as directly lower health costs.
Biden’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services chief must embrace the concept of social determinants of health and be empowered to use Medicaid and Medicare as laboratories to nurture pilot programs. We must build upon existing research that has already demonstrated that long-term housing for the homeless and medically tailored meals for the chronically ill lead to improved patient outcomes and significant cost savings.
Getting the virus under control, stabilizing and improving upon the ACA and making sensible social investments will boost our collective wellness, transform our healthcare system and help put our fiscal house in order.
Jerry Vitti is the founder and CEO of Healthcare Financial Inc., a Boston-area company that assists individuals in obtaining healthcare benefits.