Updated: Feb 5
Weekly Policy Updates
Friday, January 22, 2021
On Wednesday the 20th of January, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office. This week, the bulk of the weekly updates are dedicated to highlighting some of the most important activities of the new Administration.
The Biden-Harris Administration Immediate Priorities: The White House website has been updated to include the immediate policy priorities for the new Administration. These priorities are: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, racial equity, the economy, health care, immigration, and restoring America’s global standing. On healthcare, Biden promises to expand access, build on the Affordable Care Act, reduce healthcare costs and reduce complexities.
Biden Releases National COVID Strategy, Will Order Agencies to Use Defense Production Act. On Thursday, President Joe Biden released his national COVID strategy, which includes using the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, tests, and other supplies needed to battle the pandemic. The announcement follows the calls of 26 Democratic Senators for the incoming administration to immediately invoke the DPA, which gives the President authority to increase manufacturing outputs in the case of emergency. The move signals the Biden administration will be more aggressive than the Trump administration in invoking the DPA. The updated White House website includes a seven-pronged COVID strategy: ensuring access to testing, solving PPE shortages, guidance and resources for communities navigating the pandemic, fair distribution of vaccines and treatments, protecting high-risk populations including the elderly, expanding defenses against future pandemics, and nation-wide mask mandates.
Why it matters: Biden’s COVID-19 strategy signals the differing approach of this administration on tackling the pandemic. E.g., while the previous administration focused a lot of high-profile energy on Operation Warp Speed (vaccine development), the Biden administration is looking more broadly at public health and health care delivery measures across the government.
Biden’s 17 Executive Orders and Other Directives in Detail: On his first night in office, Biden signed 17 Executive Orders. Notably, he bolstered immigration protections for “Dreamers,” ended the travel ban from Muslim and African countries, halted the border wall, rejoined the Paris climate accords, established an effort to uncover and address racial inequities in federal programs, and prohibited discrimination by federal agencies against LGBTQ individuals. On the healthcare front, he set the groundwork for his COVID-19 strategy by appointing a response coordinator and implementing a mandate that masks be required on Federal property.
Why it matters: In the coming weeks and months, we can expect to see significant shifts away from Trump-era policies, especially in the healthcare arena. Many of these changes are aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing health disparities, both of which are also priorities across the healthcare industry. We will be tracking these changes closely.
Biden Names Top Government Management Official: President Joe Biden has named Jason Miller as Deputy Director for Management at OMB.
Biden Nominates Top House Appropriations Aide for OMB Deputy Director: Biden has tapped Yolanda Young as Deputy Director for OMB.
Why it matters: Both of these are significant appointments with specific relevance for OPM. The last three Deputy Directors for Managements became Acting Directors of OPM (Beth Cobert, Margaret Weichert, and Michael Rigas) at some point in their terms. Generally, this role has oversight over OPM policies and operations. OMB - whether under Rs or Ds - wants to manage HR policies because of the direct impact on operational effectiveness of the federal government. This will have an indirect impact on FEHB and FEDVIP but is important.
President Joe Biden Announces Acting Federal Agency Leadership: Kathy McGettigan, who is a 30-year OPM veteran, will serve as Acting Director of the agency. She currently serves as the agency’s Chief Management Officer. At one point in her tenure at OPM, Kathy had direct oversight of the FEHB Program, so she comes to her role as Acting Director with a working knowledge of the program.
The Partnership for Public Service maintains a tracker for political appointments so you can stay up to date.
FEHB, OPM & Federal Employees
OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: Preview Highlights of Governmentwide 2020 Results: OPM released a preview of the results of the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), full results are expected to be available in the Spring. The government-wide response rate improved, job satisfaction rose, and a majority of employees were satisfied with communications from their leaderships about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why it matters: The FEVS give insight into the morale and satisfaction of Federal employees. When full results are available, you will be able to drill down to the agency level.
The Affordable Care Act Reduced Income Inequality in the U.S.: This Health Affairs study simulated the impact of the ACA on income inequality in 2019 and found that it was reduced by the ACA, particularly in states where Medicaid was expanded. Researchers looked at impacts based on race/ethnicity, age, and family education attainment.
Why it matters: With California v. Texas still being considered by the Supreme Court, the fate of the Affordable Care Act is still up in the air. At the same time, the Biden-Harris Administration has vowed to bolster the ACA. Late last year, Kaiser Family Foundation provided a great synopsis of the California v. Texas case. Understanding what the impacts of the law have been, including impacts on income equality, provide insight into the potential impacts if the law is overturned by the Court.
The Language of Health Care Reform: While the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be the focus of any healthcare policy for the next year or two, other healthcare issues such as high healthcare spending, poor health outcomes, the number of uninsured Americans, and rising out-of-pocket costs are likely to trigger another major healthcare reform debate at some point. This article walks through some of the terminology—including Medicare for All and the Biden-supported Public Option—and explains how some of the options on the table may play out.
5 Things to Watch at Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial. The Senate is set to set President Trump’s second impeachment trial following the House’s impeachment last week. The outstanding questions for the trial, which could potentially result in Trump being barred from running for office again, include the schedule of the proceedings as well as the legality of trying an official who has already left office. Many Republican Senators, who opposed convicting Trump during his first impeachment in 2020, are also now undecided on how they will vote.
Democrats Officially Control the Senate After Final Members are Sworn In. The Senate swore in Senators Raphael Warnock (D-GA), John Ossoff (D-GA), and Alexander Padilla (D-CA) on Wednesday, cementing Democrats as the Majority in the chamber. New Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the former four-year Minority Leader for the party, will lead the Democrats. It is the first time Democrats have controlled the Senate in six years and the first time Democrats have controlled all chambers of government in a decade.
Why it matters: Dem control of the Senate means Biden will have an easier time getting his health-related appointments and priorities through. But the razor thin margins mean that some Republican support will be necessary to move most things unless Democrats undo the filibuster or use reconciliation.
Democrats Weigh Their Stimulus Options: Go Big or Go Fast. President Joe Biden previewed a $1.9 trillion stimulus last week, but cooperation by both parties in Congress will determine the speed and type of package for additional COVID relief. Leaders from Congress and the administration have been considering reconciliation, a budgetary procedure that only needs a simple majority in pass, to bypass Republican objections. Alternatively, they may seek a bipartisan bill to quickly fund additional vaccine distribution efforts and $1,400 personal stimulus checks.
Why it matters: Biden’s approach to the stimulus discussions will foreshadow how Democrats will deal with Republicans on high-priority issues—whether to seek bipartisan agreement or aggressively pursue his agenda through every procedural mechanism possible.
Black Americans Are Getting Vaccinated at Lower Rates Than White Americans: In 16 states that have released vaccination data by race, white residents are being vaccinated at a much higher rate than Black residents—in some cases 2-3 times higher.
Why it matters: As a major player in the vaccination effort, health insurers will need to make sure that their vaccination strategy includes intentional efforts to encourage vaccination among members of all races/ethnicities. This may require targeted, culturally competent strategies for members of color and should tie back to efforts to address health disparities.