President Biden Addresses Healthcare Coverage for the Uninsured 
Patrick T. Fallon

As the deadly Covid-19 pandemic continues, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order aimed at restoring and strengthening access to quality, affordable healthcare. 

Specifically, the president’s Thursday (January 28) order directed federal agencies to re-examine rules and other policies that limit Americans’ access to healthcare, according to a briefing from White House press secretary, Jen Psaki. Biden also took additional actions to help strengthen Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will open —the official health insurance marketplace—for a special enrollment period beginning February 15 to May 15. “Americans without health insurance can go to the site and sign up for health coverage, often at little or no cost,” said Psaki.

Melanie L. Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, praised the president’s “tremendous” executive action.

“It is no secret that the Black community has long suffered from the ongoing health care disparities that exist in this nation. With many of us already suffering from underlying conditions, contracting COVID-19 has amounted to a death sentence for too many of our people,” she said. “Many in the labor force within our communities, especially Black women, have been designated as ‘essential workers’ due to their roles as health care providers, grocery clerks, first responders, teachers, etc. They have not been afforded the luxury of working from home during this pandemic, and they often do not have the health insurance necessary should they become stricken.”

Addressing the coronavirus and affordable health care access were among the top issues that Black voters identified that they wanted the President and Congress to address in the 2020 Black Women’s Roundtable Essence Poll. Several members of Congress expressed their support for the executive action on social media. 

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Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) said in a tweet: “Now more than ever, Americans need access to affordable health care. I am pleased to see President Biden take immediate action to reopen the ACA open enrollment period to ensure people have the health coverage they need during #COVID19. During this Special Enrollment Period, nearly 9 million uninsured Americans could enroll in an affordable health plan that not only covers COVID-19 testing and treatment, but also mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, and more. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have advocated for a Special Enrollment Period to ensure Americans have access to coverage during this critical time. I urge Congress to join my effort to further expand access to affordable care by passing my Health Care Affordability Act.” 

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) also wrote yesterday on Twitter: “Affordable & accessible health care has been one of my top priorities since coming to Congress. Today, the Biden-Harris Administration took bold steps to strengthen Medicaid & the ACA, protect women’s health, and open a special enrollment period for the marketplace.” 

Meanwhile, as new strains of the coronavirus have emerged, the Biden-Harris Administration is taking other actions related to COVID-19 vaccines. 

An amendment is being made to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (or PREP Act), a declaration on the nation’s COVID-19 response. HHS will amend the current PREP Act declaration to allow recently retired doctors and nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, anyone currently licensed to vaccinate within their home state will also be allowed to administer shots across state lines. This is an effort to put more vaccinators in the field, according to White House officials. 

“A number of states have already taken action to ease licensing requirements to expand the vaccinator workforce, but this nationwide action will make that easier across the board,” said Psaki. “The amendment will help us in our vaccination efforts with the continued goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.”