Almost a year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, the new Biden administration is expected to move quickly to respond to the crisis. It is also expected to make significant long-term changes to the U.S. healthcare system and health policy. As healthcare communicators and PR pros, we need to track these policy changes and adjust our communications strategies accordingly.
Today, healthcare news is dominated by one story: COVID-19. However, the pandemic has also exposed significant flaws in our healthcare system, including high costs, a lack of emergency preparedness, loss of insurance coverage due to unemployment and health disparities. The U.S. currently spends approximately double the amount per person on healthcare as other wealthy countries. How will the Biden administration address these issues?
Here are three key areas where his policies may reshape the industry and its narratives:
1. Insurance Coverage and Access to Healthcare
In his campaign, President Biden separated himself from other candidates with a plan to expand the Affordable Care Act and to create a public health insurance option while also allowing Americans to keep health plans they are satisfied with now. Under this proposal, all Americans — whether they are covered through an employer, an individual plan or choose not to receive coverage — would have the choice of purchasing a public health insurance option.
Among Democrats, there is some debate on whether such a proposal would pass. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional before its term ends in June 2021. With all that said, there may be opportunities for more targeted bipartisan healthcare legislation, and the Biden administration could turn to executive action to pursue policy changes without Congress.
Additionally, during the pandemic, temporary policies expanded access to telehealth, which reduced the burden on hospitals and reduced contagion risk. Now that this benefit has been introduced, it has increased access to care for many patients who might have time, location, physical or other limitations. We can expect the Biden administration and policymakers to make these temporary policies more permanent.
In future years, there will be serious efforts to expand access to health insurance across the board. COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in our system, as millions were left uninsured during a global pandemic, largely due to the economic downturn. Payers should prepare for expanded government programs and adjustments to premium tax credits. Likewise, providers should prepare to educate patients on their options. We can also count on telehealth to remove barriers and continue to expand access to care.
2. Cost of Care
Health spending per person in the U.S. was approximately $10,966 in 2019, which surpasses all other developed countries. Inefficiencies in our system drive these unsustainable costs, which President Biden plans to address in key areas, such as drug pricing and existing market concentrations. Congress has recently held several Senate hearings on the topic of drug pricing. We can expect a continued focus on this issue, including potentially:
- Repealing the exception that allows drug corporations to avoid negotiating with Medicare over drug prices.
- Limiting launch prices for drugs that face no competition.
- Prohibiting all brand, biotech, and high-priced generic drugs from increasing their prices more than the general inflation rate if they want to participate in government programs like Medicaid.
- Allowing consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries.
Additionally, our current system has several market concentrations, which raise costs for consumers in such areas as hospital systems, payers and drug companies. Biden proposes to aggressively use its existing antitrust authority to address this problem.
These changes mean that drug companies will need to adjust their pricing structure to adapt to the new policies and compete on a global level. They will also work to develop more efficiencies during drug development to remain competitive. Additionally, corporations that hold a large percentage of the market may face antitrust suits. This will give more power back to regional health plans in the payers’ sector and private practice groups in the providers’ realm.
3. Social Determinants of Health and Whole-person Care
COVID-19 has also exposed the importance of addressing social determinants of health and embracing whole-person care that addresses both the mind and body. Minorities and lower-income populations were disproportionally affected by the pandemic, and large numbers battled with anxiety and depression. We can expect Biden to address some of these issues in plans to:
- Reduce high maternal mortality rates, which especially impacts people of color.
- Defend health care protections for all, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
- Achieving mental health parity and expanding access to mental health care.
In the upcoming years, the industry needs to take a closer look at how it addresses social determinants of health and whole-person care. This will be critical to addressing gaps in care for vulnerable populations. We will also see more organizations invest in nonprofits and social services that address social determinants of health and support mental health.
The past year has completely remade the healthcare news landscape, and PR pros have done well to adapt quickly and respond rapidly to this global health crisis. Moving forward, we will need to keep a close eye on healthcare policy changes and shifts in the news cycle. We predict that social determinants and whole-person care will play a major role in the future of the industry, and we must be prepared to help our healthcare clients lead those conversations and contribute new solutions over the next four years.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.