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Biden To Sign 2 Executive Actions Related To Health Care

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since taking office, President Joe Biden has signed a long list of executive orders to try to fulfill his core campaign promises or at least to signal their priority in his administration. Today, health care is in the spotlight. President Biden is signing two executive actions. One aims to increase access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and increase access to Medicaid. The other is a memorandum to expand access to reproductive health. NPR health policy reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin is with us for details. Good morning, Selena.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What can you tell us? Let's start off with the executive order on the ACA.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So the big news there is that the Biden administration is opening up a special enrollment period on healthcare.gov. That is the federally run health insurance exchange. Starting February 15, Americans will have three months to sign up for a health plan if their state uses healthcare.gov as its Obamacare exchange - most states do. That will be open for three months until mid-May. And that means you don't have to prove you've just lost coverage or had a qualifying life event. You could just go in, choose a plan, get covered. And this is the first time there's been a special enrollment period on the federal exchange during the pandemic. The Trump administration faced pressure to have one in the spring, but it never did.

MARTIN: And this executive order addresses Medicaid as well.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's right. Medicaid has turned out to be key in preventing millions of people who've lost jobs from the coronavirus recession from losing their health coverage as well. That's the health plan for low-income people. And last night, the White House put out this fact sheet about the executive order, and it seems pretty sweeping. It's asking federal agencies to look at any rules or policies that make it harder for people to have access to health insurance, either through ACA exchanges or Medicaid. And that includes the controversial work requirements that the Trump administration encouraged states to take up in the last few years. And there are other ways that Biden has said he would like to shore up the ACA. But this is a significant start in terms of what he can do from the executive branch.

MARTIN: OK, so the Medicaid and the ACA access, that's encompassed in one executive action. And then there's this memorandum on reproductive health, right?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's right. So first of all, this one rescinds the global gag rule or Mexico City policy that bans federal dollars from going to international organizations that provide or refer people for abortions. And this is kind of a yo-yo issue. So Republican presidents reinstate it, Democrats rescind it. Biden is getting rid of it. He's also asking for a review of a Trump policy that prevented organizations that promote or provide abortions here in the U.S. from having access to Title X funding. So Biden wants to get rid of that policy as well.

MARTIN: So, I mean, we've talked about this on the show. President Biden, other presidents before him, use executive actions when, frankly, on a lot of these issues, they don't think they can get the support in time in Congress. So when you think about these executive orders, when you think about President Biden and what he said about his agenda, where does health policy fall?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's right. It's kind of hard to remember that health policy was supposed to be the issue of the 2020 election. That's not exactly how it shook out.

MARTIN: Right.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: But, yes, I think that Biden is going to be using executive action. And some health experts that I've talked to have said that Trump gave him a playbook for how to do this. All that Trump did on the issue was through the executive branch. He didn't get a single piece of big health legislation through Congress. So Biden has that model to work from to shape this issue in a totally different way with totally different priorities and values. And also part of what he's doing is getting this on people's radar. There are 26 million uninsured people in this country. It's a pandemic. A lot of people don't know that the Affordable Care Act is still the law. And so I'm expecting to see a big push to try to get people to know that this open enrollment period is coming on February 15.

MARTIN: NPR health policy reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin, thank you.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.