Biden orders HHS to strengthen long COVID research, care, coverage and protections

President Joe Biden has ordered the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to strengthen care for individuals experiencing “long COVID” and increase clinical research on prolonged illness and other conditions following an acute COVID-19 infection.

Tuesday’s memorandum instructs HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to quarterback “the government-wide response to the long-term effects of COVID-19,” a push that will include secretaries from the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor and other federal agencies as well as private sector partners including payers and providers.

In the short term, the president’s order tasks Becerra with releasing a pair of jointly developed public reports within 120 days of the memorandum.

The first, according to the White House, will outline federal government services to assist those experiencing long COVID, those who experienced a loss due to COVID-19 and those who are experiencing mental health and substance use issues due to the pandemic, including those in underserved communities.

The second will be an interagency National Research Action Plan detailing efforts to better measure and characterize long COVID, estimate its prevalence, foster the development of new long COVID treatments and care models, improve long COVID data sharing between agencies and other research-focused goals, according to the memorandum.

“My administration recognizes the toll of this pandemic on the American public and commits to redoubling our efforts to support the American people in addressing the long-term effects of COVID-19 on their lives and on society,” Biden wrote in the memorandum.

In a fact sheet accompanying the order, the White House specified that these directives would include centers of excellence “to investigate how healthcare systems can best organize and deliver care for people with long COVID,” updates to existing interim clinical guidance from health agencies and targeted provider education.

The administration also said it plans to “continue to assess opportunities” to more broadly cover long COVID through Medicare, Medicaid, the marketplace and other insurance options as well as to better understand and more firmly establish long COVID as a protected disability.

In relation to the latter, the White House said it will be ramping up its legal assistance for long COVID-related disability disputes, providing more long COVID disability resources to the public and increasing its investigations of workplace interventions related to long COVID disabilities.

“The administration has mobilized to advance our nation’s understanding of long COVID and its associated conditions, promote high-quality care for patients and help individuals access supportive services—especially for those from communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “The president’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan makes clear that we are committed to accelerating these efforts, with additional support and resources from Congress.”

However, congressional support for the administration’s COVID-19 plans has so far fallen short of what the Biden administration has hoped for.

The latest $10 billion package out of Capitol Hill has hit another snag as senators dispute additional amendments related to issues such as immigration policy. Even if passed, the relief already falls well short of the White House’s initial ask and excludes funding for international responses proposed by the administration.