Washington, Jan 28 (efe-epa).- President Joe Biden on Thursday announced several measures to help millions of Americans without health insurance get access to healthcare and to eliminate obstacles to the funding of groups providing abotions or advising women on the procedure abroad.
In remarks to the press at the White House, Biden announced that the aim of his decrees was to undo “the damage” done by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“I’m not initiating any new law, any new aspect of the law,” Biden said in remarks in the Oval Office, adding that he was “restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring … Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president, which by fiat he changed, made more inaccessible, more expensive and more difficult for people to qualify for either of those two items.”
Biden, who served for eight years as former President Barack Obama’s vice president from 2009-2017, helped design the healthcare policies that Trump later tried to dismantle.
Trump did everything possible to abolish Obama’s healthcare reform with the help of Republicans in Congress, who since the approval of the ACA in 2010 have voted more than 70 times to nullify it in symbolic moves that never managed to derail the law but certainly did weaken it.
To reverse that damage, the first decision Biden made on Thursday was to provide the tools so that people who have lost their medical insurance during the pandemic because they were thrown out of work can reacquire it and also so that people who never had health insurance can now obtain it if they so desire.
With Biden’s move, Americans will have three months – from Feb. 15 through May 15 – to buy health insurance via the HealthCare.gov Web site, the federal government’s online health insurance marketplace created under Obama’s healthcare reform and which allows people to buy medical insurance at a cost lower than in the regular market.
The White House refused to provide a figure for the potential number of people who can benefit from this measures but, according to data from the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, some 16 million people could meet the requirements to take advantage of Biden’s measure.
In the US, where healthcare is not a right, more than half of Americans have health coverage through their employers, and those who do not have such coverage run the risk of being hit with tremendously high expenses – and possible bankruptcy or at least onerous debt – if they need to pay for ever-more-costly medical procedures.
Obama’s healthcare reform, popularly known as “Obamacare,” tried to change the system to allow Americans to get health coverage without having to go into heavy debt and, in addition, it prohibited insurers from refusing to provide their services or from charging more to people with preexisting conditions.
On this issue, Biden asked the Health and Human Services Department to review the restrictions Trump imposed on people having preexisting conditions and he ordered the strengthening of Medicaid, which guarantees the right to healthcare for people with low incomes.
Biden’s move has special importance after the detection in the US on Thursday of the first case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa, a mutated form of the coronavirus that is spreading more quickly than the original strain but which, fortunately, does not appear to cause more severe illness.
The South African strain of the virus was detected in two people in South Carolina who had not traveled outside the US recently, suggesting that the variant is already present within the country.
The US already leads the world in Covid infections with 25.6 million and deaths with more than 430,000, according to the independent tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.
Biden said that of all the times that the US has expanded healthcare for the public, this one is “the most important” because of the ongoing spread of the pandemic.
Finally, the president signed a memorandum to reverse an executive order signed by Trump and once again allow the use of government funds to subsidize groups that provide abortions or counsel women on the procedure abroad.
Providing US government funding to pro-abortion groups abroad has been a matter of heated controversy in recent administrations, with Democratic governments authorizing those funds and Republican governments prohibiting them.
Prohibiting such funding, known as the “Mexico City Policy” because it was announced at a United Nations conference held in that city in 1984, was one of the cornerstones of President Ronald Reagan’s social policy during his 1981-1989 administration.
Bill Clinton abolished it during his 1993-2001 term and George W. Bush reinstated the ban, while Obama once again provided the funding only to have Trump cut it off.
Critics of the Mexico policy allege that the restrictions have greatly limited financing for humanitarian groups offering family planning services and have forced women outside the US to have to resort to illegal and unsafe abortions.