How President Joe Biden Plans to Tackle America’s Health Problems Now That He's in Office

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Julie Mazziotta
·6 min read
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Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock President Joe Biden signed executive orders in the Oval Office soon after he was sworn in

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in yesterday facing "converging crises," from the record-high unemployment rate to the national reckoning over race to, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is the most immediate focus for the Biden presidency, sitting at the top of a full docket of health concerns. Here are the biggest issues Biden and his administration hope to tackle in his first 100 days and beyond.

COVID-19

By far the most pressing health concern is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to rage through the U.S.: As of Jan. 21, more than 24,496,000 Americans have tested positive for the virus, at least 406,190 have died and 122,700 are currently hospitalized for treatment, overwhelming hospitals in areas like Los Angeles County.

RELATED: How a Mysterious Illness Led to 1.9 Million Deaths: A Look Back at 1 Year of the COVID Pandemic

Mask mandates

Biden got to work right after he was sworn in, signing several executive orders aimed at tackling the pandemic. The first was a mask mandate, requiring anyone in federal buildings or on federal lands — and any federal employees or contractors — to wear a mask. He has also said he intends to lay out further mandates requiring masks on interstate planes, trains and buses. And while he does not have the authority to require a nationwide mandate for all Americans, he said he will urge state governors and local mayors to institute them in their areas.

Rejoining WHO

In the hours following his inauguration, Biden also rejoined the World Health Organization, mending ties to the group after former President Donald Trump announced in May that he would withdraw the U.S.'s affiliation. Biden named Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and his chief medical advisor, as the head of the U.S. delegation to WHO.

"I thought there's no time to wait. Get to work immediately," Biden told reporters as he signed the orders in the Oval Office on Jan. 20.

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Defense production act

The day after his inauguration, Biden released his national strategy plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which included his intention to invoke the Defense Production Act. The act, typically used in times of war or crisis, requires companies to switch production to critical supplies. To address the virus, Biden will instruct manufacturers to increase production of items that frontline health care workers desperately need, like N95 masks, gowns and gloves. They'll also boost manufacturing of swabs, which are needed for testing, and the syringes and vials for vaccines.

"The team will work with the states and the manufacturers to ensure that we're using the DPA as aggressively as needed to accelerate the supply of the vaccine," said Bechara Choucair, Biden's COVID-19 vaccine coordinator, according to The Hill.

100 million vaccine doses

An increase in vaccine supplies will also help Biden reach his stated goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses to Americans in his first 100 days, a lofty objective. One month into vaccine distribution, just 16 million doses have gone out in the U.S. Vaccine availability is also a concern, and areas like New York have said that they are already running out of doses. Fauci, though, has said that the plan is "quite feasible."

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"We've discussed it with the Biden team, and we think it's quite feasible that we can do that. Right now, even now, we've gone from half a million a day to 750,000 a day. I believe strongly that it's doable — and if we do it, stay on target to get the overwhelming majority of the country vaccinated," he said Jan. 15 on Today.

Expanding health coverage

Outside of the immediate needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden has stated his intentions for several other health issues, including expanding health insurance coverage for the 28.9 million Americans without it.

In opposition to his more progressive rivals who ran against him in the democratic presidential primary, Biden said that he did not support a fully public health care plan like Medicare for All, instead allowing Americans to choose between a public option and private insurance. But he plans to expand Medicare eligibility to assist low-income Americans, which will help insure those who still cannot afford to buy a plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he introduced in 2010 with former President Barack Obama.

RELATED: More Than 400,000 Americans Have Died of COVID, Nearly 1 Year After the First U.S. Case

Biden will also reverse some of Trump's changes to the ACA, such as bringing back the individual mandate, which requires Americans to have some form of health coverage, and removing a law that stops Medicare from negotiating lower prices on prescription drugs, which will make them cheaper for Americans. Biden will also add to the ACA by allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase plans.

Abortion rights

Biden has said that access to abortion is "essential," and if the newly-conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, he will immediately "pass legislation making Roe the law of the land."

He also recently said he no longer supports the Hyde Amendment, a policy restricting federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. It means that federal employees, military members, Peace Corps volunteers, residents of Washington, D.C. and low-income Americans on Medicaid cannot get funding to pay for an abortion.

After criticism during his presidential campaign in 2019 over his past support for the amendment, Biden said that he would work to repeal it as president."If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's ZIP code," then-candidate Biden said, according to NBC News. (edited)

Opioid epidemic

To tackle the ongoing opioid epidemic, which has led to nearly 450,000 overdose deaths between 1999 and 2018, Biden hopes to invest $125 billion over 10 years to increase access to treatment and prevention, boost medical resources to save people who have overdosed and invest in research for treatments for chronic pain. The cause is close to Biden's heart, after his son Hunter's own battle with addiction.