Biden Administration Priorities for Health and Human Services

Published: March 30, 2021

Administration TransitionCMSChild CareChildren's Health Insurance ProgramCommunity DevelopmentCONGRESSCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicCybersecurityEconomic StimulusForecasts and SpendingGrantsHHSHealth CareHealth Information TechnologyHealth Insurance ExchangeHealth ITHealth ServicesInformation TechnologyMedicaid Management Information SystemsPolicy and LegislationProfessional ServicesPublic Private PartnershipsPublic SectorSet-AsideSocial ServicesSupplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramUnemployment InsuranceWaste, Fraud, and AbuseWHITE HOUSE OFFICE (EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT)

Apart from responding to COVID-19, Biden’s HHS agenda includes four major components: expanding healthcare access, bolstering welfare programs, building up health IT infrastructure, and increasing health equity.

The month of March saw a couple of key wins for President Joe Biden and his health and human services agenda. First, Xavier Becerra was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services, then Rachel Levine was confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Health. With these appointments, the Biden administration can begin tackling four of its immediate priorities related to healthcare and social services, aside from responding to the COVID-19 virus. Together with Becerra and Levine, Biden intends to expand healthcare access, bolster welfare programs, build up health IT infrastructure, and increase health equity.

Expanding healthcare access is one of Biden’s top priorities as president. In fact, this initiative is what drove Becerra’s nomination, and now appointment, as HHS secretary. His extensive legal background will help the administration to achieve its goals of expanding Medicaid, implementing ‘Medicare for all,’ and strengthening the Affordable Care Act.

Many benefits have been expanded or extended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Biden administration intends to make some of those changes permanent as part of its goal to bolster welfare programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in particular is expected to be a target for expansion. Already, Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits have been extended until the end of the fiscal year, the time limit on the Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWD) rule has been extended, and states have been given broader flexibility in how their SNAP dollars can be spent. If Democrats can hold onto their narrow lead in Congress, the next Farm Bill is likely to include a significant increase in SNAP spending and looser eligibility requirements.

A consistent theme throughout Biden’s administration is developing IT infrastructure at the federal, state, and local levels. This includes building up IT systems that support critical health and welfare programs. Currently, the administration is prioritizing a few major projects related to COVID-19, including developing contact tracing systems, vaccine management systems, and vaccine passports. While these systems would be managed at the state or private sector level, the White House is assisting in the development of these projects by creating guidelines that touch on privacy, accuracy, and equity.

Another win for the Biden administration this month was passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which includes significant HHS-related IT funding for state, local and tribal entities. A portion of the $7.5 billion for COVID-10 vaccine activities in the bill will be set aside for technology, data, and reporting enhancements, including improvements necessary to support sharing of data related to vaccine distribution and vaccinations and systems that enhance vaccine safety, effectiveness, and uptake, particularly among underserved populations. Additionally, part of the $47.8 billion for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and mitigation activities in the bill is meant to enhance IT, data modernization, and reporting, including improvements necessary to support sharing of data related to public health capabilities.

The bill also includes $2 billion for administrative and program integrity activities to support unemployment insurance. Part of this money will be delivered via grants to establish procedures or build infrastructure to verify or validate identity, implement federal guidance regarding fraud detection and prevention, and accelerate claims processing or process claims backlogs due to the pandemic. Lastly, $20 million is being set aside to modernize or update any systems, programs, or technologies utilized by state health insurance exchanges to ensure they are compliant. This funding will assist the Biden administration in strengthening the Affordable Care Act.

Biden has already demonstrated his emphasis on increasing health equity by nominating Levine, who is the first openly transgender federal official. Not only is this a historic appointment, but Levine has a strong track record of fighting for social justice in healthcare, according to industry experts. While a lack of health equity has long been a problem in the United States, COVID has made this divide even bigger. “Socioeconomic status, food security, affordable housing, access to childcare and health care, systemic racism and discrimination” all contribute to disparities in the effects of COVID-19 and other diseases, Levine said. Levine will handle many responsibilities as Becerra’s top advisor, but increasing health equity will be one of her primary goals.

For the latest research and analysis on the Biden administration, check out GovWin’s Administration Transition Resource Center.