U.S. President Joe Biden signed two orders expanding health care on Thursday, saying they would “undo the damage” of policies favored by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
Biden restored U.S. funding for foreign nongovernmental groups that give information to women about abortions, and also opened a special three-month enrollment period for uninsured Americans who now want to buy health insurance, as well as for those who lost their coverage because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, like past Republican presidents, had supported what critics have called the “global gag rule” on abortion information and had refused to reopen the government’s market for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Biden’s order also increased access to health care funding for impoverished Americans under a program called Medicaid.
“There’s nothing new that we’re doing here,” Biden said, other than to restore programs as they were before Trump changed them. Biden contended that Trump made them “more inaccessible, more expensive and more difficult for people to qualify for.”
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The newest Biden orders are among a string of directives he has signed in his first eight days in office to upend Trump policies. Among other changes, Biden has committed the U.S. to rejoining the international Paris climate change treaty, renewed U.S. membership in the World Health Organization, and ended leasing rights for oil drilling on federal lands and waters.
The abortion policy Biden has now rescinded prohibited international organizations that receive U.S. health aid from using their own money or funds they get from another source to provide abortion services or counseling.
The policy was first adopted by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in 1985. But former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rescinded it, contending it put the health of women and girls at risk.
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Former Republican President George W. Bush and, later, Trump restored the Reagan policy, saying that U.S. funds should not go to organizations that support abortion.
Under Trump, the policy cut about $12 billion in U.S. overseas aid.
In the United States, employer-related coverage is the most common way Americans get health insurance to help pay their medical bills. But with the pandemic putting millions of people out of work, the number of uninsured has grown.
Biden’s order will allow for a three-month special enrollment period for the insurance markets created under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” the program created in 2010 when Biden served as vice president under Obama.
Typically, the program is only open for signups for six weeks a year.
“As we continue to battle COVID-19, it is even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to affordable care,” the White House said in a statement ahead of the signing.
The order directs federal agencies to reexamine policies that undermine the program’s protections for people who have preexisting conditions, including effects from COVID-19.
More than 431,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, and another 25.6 million have been infected.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Wednesday that her agency’s forecasts indicated the U.S. death toll would be between 479,000 and 514,000 by February 20.