Series of executive orders are ‘crucial step’ in combating health care crisis
Feb. 5, 2021 (ACP) – During the first days of the Biden administration, the new president signed multiple executive orders to improve and reform the American health care system. The American College of Physicians is pleased by the quick progress but understands more work is still necessary to protect the nation's patients and physicians.
As ACP has noted, the nation is in the middle of an extraordinary health care crisis. “The crisis is especially due to the challenge of combating COVID-19, but it also includes multiple other issues like racial disparities, immigration, poverty, and climate change that impact the health of our patients and our physician workforce,” said Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher, president of ACP. “There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to tackle all of these issues in substantive ways. But these actions taken together are a crucial step to point our country in the right direction to the benefit of our patients at a time of unprecedented threats to their health.”
ACP is supportive of President Biden's executive actions affecting health care on the following topics:
- Organizing and Mobilizing the U.S. Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide U.S. Leadership on Global Health and Security. This order establishes federal government coordination and actions to address racial disparities in COVID-19 infections; increases production, supply and distribution of personal protective equipment, vaccines, tests and other supplies through the use of the Defense Production Act; increases COVID-19 testing; and strengthens U.S. relationships internationally. President Biden also retracted the Trump administration's intent to withdraw from the World Health Organization.
“Much of what the Biden administration has done so far is to undo policies from the Trump administration that they disagree with and also send a signal that their approach to COVID-19 is going to be very different,” said Bob Doherty, ACP senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. “In regard to the pandemic, the federal government is going to be a much bigger force in terms of supporting the states.”
- Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing. This order, which mandates mask-wearing and other measures on federal property, complies with ACP's support of evidence-based practices to limit spread of COVID-19.
- Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. This order addresses disparities in discrimination in health and health care and revokes an executive order issued by the previous administration that prohibited federal agencies and contractors from offering or supporting certain forms of implicit bias training.
- Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States. ACP supports allowing legal entry to the United States – including by physicians and other scientists – for study, research, work and other purposes subject to applicable U.S. visa requirements without regard to country of origin. ACP strongly opposed the previous administration's executive order to restrict entry to individuals based solely on country of origin and welcomes the decision to revoke the restrictions and instead use applicable law and visa processing standards.
- Pausing Federal Student Loan Payments. This proclamation extends the pause on federal student loan payments and collections through Sept. 30, 2021, and keeps the interest rate at 0 percent. This is a major step to support physicians who may be experiencing a reduced salary while helping the health care system cope with COVID-19.
- Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation. ACP supports this order, which would fully enforce laws prohibiting discrimination, address overlapping forms of discrimination and ask agencies to determine whether further action or new regulations are needed.
- Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). ACP has long been a proponent of the DACA program and finding a pathway to citizenship for individuals in the program. This executive order directs the Department of Homeland Security to continue the program.
- Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. Consistent with ACP policies, this executive order directs federal agencies to follow the science to improve public health and protect the environment. The president is also recommitting to the Paris Climate Agreement.
“The pandemic is global, and you need to have global leadership,” Doherty said. “We've long identified climate change as a public health issue that has implications for the spread of respiratory diseases and heat illnesses, and we're encouraged that President Biden has stated that we'll be rejoining the Paris Accord.”
- Modernizing Regulatory Review. ACP supports requiring federal agencies to move to reduced administrative burdens and address ways to reduce disparities and discrimination caused by existing regulations. ACP also welcomes the Memorandum on Regulatory Freeze Pending Review, which allows for a more thorough review and better engagement of health care advocates in the final regulations put forward by the previous administration.
On the legislative front, ACP supports the president's proposed Emergency Legislative Package that calls for funding to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations and provide financial relief to underserved communities struggling with the impact of the pandemic.
“By their nature, executive orders have a limited scope barring additional regulatory changes or legislation by Congress,” Doherty said. “We'll be very engaged with congressional leaders, and we'll be working with the Biden administration to move beyond the initial announcements toward complete and lasting change.”
The statements “Internists Say Initial Steps of Biden Administration Will Improve Health in the U.S.,” “Internists Applaud Swift Action on COVID-19 by Biden Administration,” “Internists Praise Biden Administration Action on Racial Equity,” “Internists Call Biden Administration Actions to Protect Scientific Integrity, Combat Climate Change Promising Sign,” and “Internists Support Biden Administration's Actions to Begin to Improve Access to Health Care,” are all available on the ACP website.