Seven ways President Biden could now change health care


2. Restoring Obamacare

Mr. Biden has vowed to undo a gradual dismantling of the ACA that went on during the Trump administration through executive orders, rule-making, and new laws. “Reinvigorating the ACA was a central part of Biden’s platform as a candidate,” Mr. Levitt said.

Each Trump action against the ACA must be undone in the same way. Presidential orders must be met with presidential orders, regulations with regulations, and legislation with legislation.

The ACA is also being challenged in the Supreme Court. Republicans under Trump passed a law that reduced the penalty for not buying health insurance under the ACA to zero. Then a group of 20 states, led by Texas, filed a lawsuit asserting that this change makes the ACA unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was heard by the Supreme Court in November. From remarks made by the justices then, it appears that the court might well uphold the law when a verdict comes down in June.

But just in case, Mr. Biden wants Congress to enact a small penalty for not buying health insurance, which would remove the basis of the lawsuit.

Mr. Biden’s choice for secretary of Health and Human Services shows his level of commitment to protecting the ACA. His HHS nominee is California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led a group of 17 states defending the ACA in the current lawsuit.

In addition to undoing Trump’s changes, Mr. Biden plans to expand the ACA beyond the original legislation. The new COVID-19 bill contains provisions that would expand subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges and would lower the maximum percentage of income that anyone has to pay for health insurance to 8.5%.

Dealing with Medicaid is also related to the ACA. In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down a mandate that states expand their Medicaid programs, with substantial funding from the federal government.

To date, 12 states still do not participate in the Medicaid expansion. To lure them into the expansion, the Democrat-controlled House last session passed a bill that would offer to pay the entire bill for the first 3 years of Medicaid expansion if they chose to enact an expansion.

3. Undoing other Trump actions in health care

In addition to changes in the ACA, Trump also enacted a number of other changes in health care that President Biden could undo. For example, Mr. Biden says he will reenter the World Health Organization (WHO) so that the United States could better coordinate a COVID-19 response with other nations. Trump exited the WHO with the stroke of a pen, and Mr. Biden can do the same in reverse.

Under Trump, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services used waivers to weaken the ACA and allow states to alter their Medicaid programs. One waiver allows Georgia to leave the ACA exchanges and put brokers in charge of buying coverage. Other waivers allow states to transform federal Medicaid payments into block grants, which several states are planning to do.

The Trump CMS has allowed several states to use Medicaid waivers to add work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The courts have blocked the work rules so far, and the Biden CMS may decide to reverse these waivers or modify them.

“Undoing waivers is normally a fairly simple thing,” Mr. Levitt said. In January, however, the Trump CMS asked some waiver states to sign new contracts in which the CMS pledges not to end a waiver without 9 months’ notice. It’s unclear how many states signed such contracts and what obligation the Biden CMS has to enforce them.

The Trump CMS also stopped reimbursing insurers for waiving deductibles and copayments for low-income customers, as directed by the ACA. Without federal reimbursement, some insurers raised premiums by as much as 20% to cover the costs. It is unclear how the Biden CMS would tackle this change.


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