State of the Union Address Included Promising Proposals for Improving the U.S. Health Care System

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ACP encouraged by president's pledge to improve mental health care, continue premium subsidies for marketplace health insurance, and provide additional funding to combat COVID-19

March 18, 2022 (ACP) -- The American College of Physicians was pleased that President Biden used his first State of the Union address to promote crucial reforms and proposals that will dramatically repair and rebuild the nation's struggling health care system.

“We need to make improvements and President Biden's proposals are a step toward advancing many of our health care goals,” Dr. George M. Abraham, president of ACP, said in a statement.

Among other priorities, the president pledged to improve mental and behavioral health care by supporting mental health professionals, better integrating mental and behavioral health care into primary care settings, expanding access to telehealth services and improving access for veterans seeking mental health services. President Biden specifically mentioned a program to implement a national toll-free “988” mental health crisis service hotline.

“This is a bipartisan area where hopefully we'll see some real movement,” said Shari M. Erickson, ACP senior vice president and chief advocacy officer.

There is recent precedent for united action in Congress on crucial matters regarding the nation's health care system. Earlier this year, Congress agreed overwhelmingly to pass the bipartisan Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, named after a New York City emergency physician who died by suicide after struggling through the early height of the pandemic.

The legislation, which the president promises to sign, will launch grants and awareness campaigns to reduce stigma and identify resources for health care clinicians to seek mental health assistance. It also supports research into mental and behavioral health among medical professionals.

In addition, ACP is encouraged that the president supported continuing the increased premium subsidies for marketplace health insurance that were included in the American Rescue Plan. “We also enthusiastically agree with the president that Congress needs to move forward on providing additional funding to combat COVID-19,” Erickson said.

Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass pandemic aid in mid-March as part of a $1.5 trillion spending package. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “We continue to call on Congress to provide the funds urgently needed to prevent severe disruptions to our COVID response.”

ACP applauded other priorities that the president mentioned, including reform to allow Medicare to begin negotiating drug prices for prescription drugs. “We've long been supportive of this move,” Erickson said. “We're hopeful that it could move forward through legislation in the coming year.”

Biden also spoke about improving health care for women and ensuring access to evidence-based reproductive health care services. ACP was pleased to see the Senate follow the House's lead and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which lapsed three years ago. According to The New York Times, the act will “expand protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, provide more resources and training programs for law enforcement, fund rape crisis centers and broaden access to legal services for survivors, among other things.”

ACP also appreciated Biden's support in the State of the Union for improving nursing home and long-term care, reducing gun violence, providing a path to citizenship for dreamers and for other essential workers, and supporting LGBTQIA persons via the Equality Act. ACP is especially concerned about the recent onslaught of state laws targeting transgender people and their families.

“Moving forward, we'll be encouraging our members through our grassroots program to advocate for needed reforms,” Erickson said. “It's crucial to reach out to members of Congress and share your stories so they understand the challenges and the opportunities physicians face on the front lines.”

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Back to the March 18, 2022 issue of ACP Advocate