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Biden Moves to Expand Health Coverage in Pandemic Economy

Dr. Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, said the decision would greatly help the agency’s work not only in family planning, but in other health services for women and girls in poor countries.

“We now have the support of a very important member state,” Dr. Kanem said in a phone interview.

The rule has been riding a philosophical seesaw for decades — in place when a Republican occupies the White House and overturned when a Democrat moves in.

Mr. Biden also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to, “as soon as practicable, consider whether to suspend, revise, or rescind” the so-called domestic gag rule — a collection of regulations imposed by the Trump administration that prohibit federally funded family-planning clinics from counseling patients about abortion.

The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks access to abortion, wrote last year that the rules have
cut the “national family planning network’s patient capacity in half, jeopardizing care for 1.6 million female patients nationwide.” The presidential directive virtually guarantees that the health department will overturn those rules, though that could take months.

The president’s order will also direct federal agencies to review policies, including waivers granted to states, that discourage participation in Medicaid, the public health insurance program for poor and disabled people. Enrollment in Medicaid has grown substantially during the pandemic, in part because people who have lost jobs and health insurance have turned to it.

The Trump administration approved waivers in 12 states that would require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to work a minimum number of hours a week or risk losing their benefits. Four of those pilot programs have already been overturned by courts, and the Biden administration has the authority to end them all, although the Trump administration in its final weeks took steps to make that process more difficult.

Another waiver, completed this month in Tennessee, would give that state fixed funding — or a block grant — to cover its Medicaid population while loosening many of the rules about how the program is run. That waiver could also be canceled.

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