President Biden delivered his State of the Union last week before a divided Congress. Democrats increased their majority in the Senate in the November midterm elections, while Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. Biden’s remarks were both a celebration of his first two years in office and an unveiling of policy proposals for Congress.
President Biden stressed bipartisan cooperation to address the issues facing the nation, highlighting his “unity agenda,” which he first put forth during last year’s State of the Union. The unity agenda focuses on those policies Biden believes a bipartisan majority can support. Some of these policies included expanding access to harm reduction interventions such as naloxone, and pushing for Medicaid expansion in states that have yet to expand.
Ending the HIV epidemic is a bipartisan effort. Here are three policies that will help to end the HIV epidemic that Biden could have included in his State of the Union:
Ending the HIV epidemic
Biden acknowledged the historic progress made by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The program has dramatically reduced HIV abroad during its 20 years of operation. That same praise could just as easily be given to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, whose success in addressing the HIV epidemic within the U.S. mirrors that of PEPFAR internationally. The program connects people living with HIV to care, ensuring they receive life saving HIV medication, and ensuring they reach viral suppression. Support for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, as well as the bipartisan Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, Minority AIDS Initiative and the Housing Opportunities for People with HIV/AIDS program are all natural fits for a unity agenda.
The Medicaid Reentry Act
Ending the overdose epidemic requires policy solutions that fill in existing gaps in health care for people who use drugs. One of the most promising of these solutions is the bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act, which would enable incarcerated individuals who are eligible for Medicaid to enroll up to 30 days before their release, so that they can be connected to care immediately upon release. People reentering society from prisons and jails are 129 times more likely to die from an overdose and at significantly higher risk of suicide, so ensuring people are seamlessly connected with appropriate substance use and mental health services is essential
A smooth transition from the COVID-19 public health emergency
The COVID-19 public health emergency will be ending this spring. As that declaration expires, somewhere between 5-14 million people are expected to lose their health insurance because the Medicaid continuous enrollment requirement will end. Federal support for COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatment will also be sunsetting. It is essential for Biden to work with Congress — as well as state legislatures, health departments and community-based organizations — to ensure that our most at-risk neighbors are retained in care.