January 20, 2021

Joe Biden took the oath on Wednesday to become the 46th President of the United States and vowed to bring the nation together amid an ongoing pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, tremendous economic turmoil and unrest as grave as that US Capitol steps on which he took his oath were surrounded not by cheering crowds, but by tens of thousands of armed police and National Guard troops.

In his inaugural address, delivered outdoors despite concerns about his physical safety, Biden emphasized unity, the driving theme of his campaign. “My whole soul is in the process of bringing America together and uniting our nation,” he said. “And I ask every American to join me on this.”

In healthcare, Biden made it clear that fighting the Covid-19 pandemic will be his top priority. “We have to put politics aside and finally face this pandemic as a nation,” he said. “We’ll get through this together.”

Biden’s first official actions on Wednesday afternoon included several Covid-related executive orders. As promised, Biden requires masks and physical distancing in federal buildings and on other federal properties, as well as federal workers and contractors. He also announced that the US will renew its membership in the World Health Organization, which former President Donald Trump was about to leave. And he will re-establish the pandemic preparation office on the National Security Council that the Trump administration disbanded.

Last week, Biden unveiled a plan that also includes the application of the Defense Production Act to expedite the manufacture of syringes and other supplies needed for vaccine delivery. Create federal vaccination centers and mobilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, and others to administer the vaccines, and launch a communications campaign to convince reluctant citizens that the vaccine is safe. Details of his vaccination schedule followed his disclosure of a $ 1.9 trillion emergency package the previous day.

Biden received a separate boost earlier in the day when swearing in two new Democratic Senators from Georgia who had their victories in a January 5 runoff election. The addition of Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, plus a groundbreaking vote by new Vice President Kamala Harris, gives the Democrats 51 Senate votes and effective control over both houses of Congress for the first time since 2010.

With such close majorities in the House and Senate, it is unlikely that Biden will be able to deliver on some of his broader health-related campaign promises, including creating a “public option” to extend insurance coverage and lower the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60.

But even the slightest scrutiny will make it a lot easier for Biden to confirm his Senate appointments, and there is an opportunity to use an expedited process called budget reconciliation to make health-related budget changes, possibly including changes to the Affordable Care Act that provides coverage may make it cheaper for some families.

Covid aside, health is likely to take a back seat at the start of administration as officials tackle more pressing issues such as the economy, immigration and climate change.

Biden health workers are expected to begin repealing many of the changes Trump made that do not require legislation, such as: For example, restoring anti-discrimination protections to transgender people and reversing the Trump administration’s decision to allow some states to implement Trump’s adult work requirements under Medicaid. But that too can take weeks or months.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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