President Joe Biden focused on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during his first full day in office Thursday. In doing so, he once again drew attention to home-based care and getting the current “workforce crisis” under control.
“Our national strategy is comprehensive,” Biden said during an address from the White House. “It’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial — and it’s detailed.”
Since taking office, the president has signed 10 executive orders aimed at expanding COVID-19 testing and vaccine availability, with an ambitious goal of 100 million vaccine doses by April. The Biden administration unveiled a nearly 200-page pandemic preparedness plan on Thursday.
Wednesday saw more than 184,000 new cases of COVID-19 infection across the U.S., according to a New York Times database. More than 400,000 people have died since the pandemic began last year.
“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said.
Biden’s pandemic preparedness plan is organized around seven goals, with the first goal focused on “restoring” trust with the American people. Protecting individuals most at risk — partly by expanding access to high-quality health care — is likewise a main goal under the plan.
“Specific actions include efforts to increase funding for community health centers, provide greater assistance to safety net institutions, strengthen home- and community-based services, expand mental health care, and support care and research on the effects of long COVID,” the plan states.
Dating back to his presidential campaign, Biden has proposed numerous investments in home- and community-based services as part of his plan to “Build Back Better.”
Wednesday’s pandemic plan notes that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Administration for Community Living — will be tasked with identifying “opportunities” and “funding mechanisms” to provide greater support for individuals receiving care at home.
The plan also says that the administration will pay “particular attention” to “the home care workforce crisis.”
Washington, D.C.-based LeadingAge was among the first aging services organizations to voice support for Biden’s COVID-19 response.
“This virus has raged out of control for nearly a year, while our community has desperately called for help,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said in a statement. “So to have the new administration lay out plans on Day 1 to put COVID at the top of its agenda is welcome and hopeful news.”
To better track vaccination progress for seniors in congregate settings, in the community and in their homes, the Biden administration is also floating the idea of new reporting measures.
For example, to increase incentives to vaccinate Medicare beneficiaries, the plan explains, CMS will evaluate how to incorporate quality measures for COVID-19 immunizations into its value-based purchasing programs, including Medicare Advantage Star-Ratings, the physician quality payment program and accountable care programs.
One of the executive orders Biden signed directs cabinet agencies to invoke the Defense Production Act to scale up production of materials needed for vaccine shots.
“In the midst of the virus spiking and community spread, we’ve been on the battlefield trying to protect older adults and workers with limited support,” LeadingAge’s Sloan said. “We hope this means the cavalry is coming, especially on testing and vaccine initiatives.”
Another executive order empowers HHS, the Department of Defense and others to provide “targeted surge assistance” to critical care and long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), plus assisted living facilities and more.
The new pandemic plan follows a couple of key HHS and CMS leadership announcements made earlier in the week.
The new administration on Wednesday tapped Liz Richter to lead CMS on an interim basis during the presidential transition. The agency’s website now lists Richter, who has worked at CMS in various capacities since 1990, as acting administrator.
Former CMS Administrator Seema Verma submitted her resignation last week with an effective date of Jan. 20.
The president on Tuesday nominated Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant health secretary. Levine is currently the Pennsylvania health secretary, and a pediatrics and psychiatry professor at Penn State College of Medicine.
Biden already nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as HHS secretary, though he — along with the administration’s eventual pick for CMS chief — must eventually be confirmed by the Senate.