President Biden’s COVID-19 plan calls for a “new partnership” Community Health Centers, including new funding, direct access to vaccines, and central role in treating long-haulers.
(NACHC, Jan. 22) On his first full day in office, President Biden unveiled a 100-plus page national strategy and signed 10 Executive Orders for defeating COVID-19. In general, the plan focuses on accelerating vaccinations while slowing the spread of the virus with increased mask-wearing, more testing and a long list of other public health measures. The President also proposes to “Launch a new partnership with Federally Qualified Health Centers nationwide” (see page 43). Highlights of this proposed partnership include:
- Explicitly naming FQHCs as partners in vaccination efforts, and in efforts to ensure access for underserved populations.
- Giving CHCs direct access to vaccines: HRSA and CDC are instructed to “launch a new program to ensure that FQHCs can directly access vaccine supply where needed.”
- Encouraging jurisdictions to include FQHCs in their overall jurisdictional plans for battling the pandemic.
- Providing TA and “other resources” to support FQHCs’ vaccination efforts: HRSA is instructed to “launch a new program to provide guidance, technical assistance and other resources to prepare and engage [FQHCs] nationwide” on vaccination efforts. The plan does not explicit mention giving FQHCs funding specifically for their vaccination work; however, the mention of “other resources” leaves this possibility open.
- Charging FQHCs with caring for COVID “long-haulers”: The Executive Order “Improving and Expanding Access to Care and Treatments for Covid-19″ instructs HRSA and SAMHSA to expand “access to programs and services designed to meet the long-term health needs of patients recovering from COVID-19, including through technical assistance and support to community health centers.” Note that CHC are the only provider type explicitly named for this purpose.
- “Increased funding” for FQHCs generally: Under the heading of “Expand access to high-quality health care”, the President proposes “efforts to increase funding for community health centers”. (p. 99) While no additional details are provided (e.g., dollar amounts, purpose of funding) it appears that this funding would be for purposes beyond COVID response.
Biden COVID plan repeatedly emphasizes the importance of equity and access for historically underserved populations – and the value of FQHCs in meeting these goals.
Numerous sections of the Biden COVID-19 plans discuss the importance of equity in access to COVID prevention, treatment, and vaccines. It also emphasizes the role of both data and FQHCs in ensuring that historically underserved populations are served. Here is one example of this focus (p. 47, emphasis added)
“Drive equity throughout the vaccination campaign and broader pandemic response. The federal government will drive equity in vaccinations by using demographic data to identify communities hit hardest by the virus and supporting them, ensuring no out-of-pocket costs for vaccinations, and making sure vaccines reach those communities. Working with state, local, and community-based organizations and trusted health care providers, like community health centers, will be central to this effort.”
General COVID-related actions enacted via Executive Order.
Via ten Executive Orders signed on Thursday Jan. 21, President Biden took the following actions to address the pandemic:
- Invoked the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of materials needed to get the vaccines into arms and ramp up testing. The order covers N95 masks and other PPE, testing machines, rapid test kits and syringes capable of maximizing the amount of COVID vaccine that can be extracted from vials.
- Required masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors.
- Mandated quarantines for international travelers arriving in the United States.
- Created a pandemic testing board, modeled on President Franklin Roosevelt’s War Production Board, that will be tasked with expanding testing capacity, particularly in schools.
- Created a public dashboard with real-time national and state-level data on cases, testing, vaccinations, and hospital admissions,
- Imposed a mask-wearing mandate on airplanes and other forms of interstate transportation.
- Deployed FEMA to set up 100 community vaccination sites in the next 30 days.
- Restored full federal funding for the National Guard’s pandemic work — reversing a Trump administration decision last summer to cut most states’ funding by 25 percent.
- Approved more FEMA funding to help states reopen schools — reimbursing states for items like masks for teachers.
- Increased FEMA resources available to Native American tribes.
- Strengthened enforcement against employers who put their workers at risk of contracting Covid-19, directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to put out stronger guidance around virus prevention measures and go after “the worst violators.”