UPDATE: Dec. 1, 2020: The Biden-Harris transition team has added three people to its COVID-19 task force as case counts surge across the country and hospitals in some areas struggle to find bed space.
Jane Hopkins is a Seattle nurse who specializes in mental health and was formally executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. Jill Jim, executive director of the Navajo Nation Department of Health, has focused her career on addressing health disparities among native people. David Michaels is an epidemiologist and environmental and occupational health professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, who was previously assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
President-elect Joe Biden took a first step toward battling the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, naming a panel of experts to advise him during the transition as record-high case numbers were recorded across the country.
In an address to the nation Saturday night, Biden said "our work begins with getting COVID under control" and pledged to begin implementing his plan to combat the virus on his first day in office. "That plan will be built on bedrock science," he said.
Biden's COVID-19 task force includes Brigham and Women's surgeon Atul Gawande, who also briefly helmed Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-J.P. Morgan's Haven effort. Other members include Robert Rodriguez, a professor and emergency medicine doctor at San Francisco General Hospital; Ezekiel Emmanuel, oncologist and medical ethicist; and Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. One of the co-chairs is former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Biden's COVID-19 plan calls for using the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of personal protective equipment, ramping up testing availability, creating a racial and ethnic disparities task force and restoring the U.S. role in the World Health Organization, among other tasks.
It also creates a public health job corps to put 100,000 people to work on contact tracing.
The document notes that people with lingering COVID-19 symptoms should not be denied health coverage or pay higher premiums because of the pre-existing condition.
A more robust pandemic response will have a positive impact on payers, providers and other life sciences companies, according to a recent PwC report. "Biden is expected to draw on his experience from H1N1 and the Ebola outbreaks to address the COVID-19 pandemic with a more active role for the federal government, which many Americans support," the authors wrote. "These actions could shore up the nation's response in which the federal government largely served in a support role to local, state and private efforts."
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are likely to face an uphill battle in enacting their health policies next year. While there is still a chance the Democrats could capture the Senate, the path is slim. The party would have to win both runoff elections in Georgia.
If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Biden will face a divided Congress not eager to approve his more progressive policy proposals like a public option or lowering the Medicare eligibility age.
For this reason, analysts have said that outcome would be positive for payers. More incremental changes to close coverage gaps, like enhancing Affordable Care Act exchange subsidies, would benefit insurers heavily invested in that market — notably Centene and Molina, SVB Leerink analysts wrote in a note Monday morning. "If a Biden administration were to pass these policies, we would expect the ACA exchange market to expand by attracting individuals who are choosing to go uninsured today due to the cost of healthcare," they wrote.
But the beginning of Biden's term will undoubtedly focus on the pandemic. More than 105,000 new cases were reported Sunday and the U.S. is close to 10 million confirmed infections, according to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Increased hospitalizations typically follow a jump in infection rate, and some hospitals in hard-hit areas have already reported worries of being overwhelmed.
Biden will also face the issue of building on the Affordable Care Act, although how much work that will entail depends largely on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices on Tuesday will hear arguments for and against overturning the landmark law, with coverage for millions of Americans at stake.
If the law remains mostly intact, Biden will move to enrich ACA subsidies in an effort to get more people covered by the exchanges. PwC suggest payers in the market consider how and where to expand their footprints and payers not in the market may want to pursue an acquisition to quickly enter it.
Overall, industry would prefer small changes to sweeping ones, the report notes. "Lawmakers and politicians often use bold language, and propose bold solutions to problems, but the government and the industry itself resists sudden, dramatic change, even in the face of sudden, dramatic events such as a global pandemic."
Soon after the Associated Press announced Biden had secured the presidency late Saturday morning, industry organizations sent their congratulations.
The American Hospital Association has sought to remain nopartisan but did lament conspiracy theories President Donald Trump has promoted about doctors and hospitals seeking extra pay for COVID-19 patients, a baseless claim.
In addition, although lawmakers are deadlocked on another relief package, Democrats have backed more funding for health systems. Hospitals are pushing for more relief on top of the $175 billion Congress has so far allocated.