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Biden’s new COVID-19 plan includes ‘two new points,’ analyst explains

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Washington Health Policy Managing Director Chris Meekins discusses President Biden's latest plan to combat COVID-19 amid Omicron concerns and rising cases.

Video transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Let's break down what we just heard from President Biden with Chris Meekins. He's managing director and Washington healthcare policy analyst at Raymond James. Chris, thanks for being with us. I sort of lost count. This might be the third or fourth COVID action plan that President Biden has released this year alone. Anything different here that you think is really going to move the needle in our fight against COVID?

CHRIS MEEKINS: No is the short answer. But yeah, I mean, look, we're on COVID action plan 3.0, maybe 4.0 at this point, from the Biden administration. I think a lot of what we heard was stuff he had already said and we already knew was happening. The two new points Anjalee correctly pointed out being the requirement for testing coming into the United States, which is an appropriate action they could have done a while ago and probably more effective than travel bans now that we know it already is in the US, which was highly suspected.

And then second, dealing with insurers providing coverage for at-home tests sounds good, but that means you have to buy it, then submit something to your insurance company to then get reimbursed for, which I suspect a lot of Americans are just not going to go to the trouble to do. So I'm not convinced that's going to actually help the lower income Americans who really need access to these at-home tests as much as if they had just made them free, like they have for some treatments and like they have for vaccinations.

KARINA MITCHELL: Yeah, I was thinking exactly the same thing, that I don't know how many people will be putting in to reimburse getting those tests. But President Biden also says this plan pulls no punches, and it's a moment to put divisiveness behind us. But he didn't go further. And some thought he would mandate testing 24 hours before arriving into the country and then three or four days after arriving into the country. And then there was even talk about a possible quarantine. Is he in a politically very sort of tight situation at the moment, and he's trying to appease both sides and dealing with an American public that really is suffering from COVID fatigue at this point?

CHRIS MEEKINS: I mean, the American public is suffering from COVID fatigue 100%. And if you were to require vaccinations immediately after coming into the US, you would then have some government list of people that came in or testing and to get the results. And the government would know that about you. And would they try to hunt you down? And it just opens up whole new doors with some folks that have been really hesitant and opens up lines of criticism.

I think what we're seeing-- and it's important to remember, we are in the midst of another wave of delta in the United States, especially in the Midwest. We've seen cases increase 40% in the last three weeks at this point in time. So we have something that needs to be done. People should get boosters. It's important for the president to be messaging and leading and urging all Americans to take proactive actions.

However, it's also important to remember that we've been doing this since March of 2020. We know the tools that are available to government. There isn't a lot new there. So what we've seen is a repackaging a couple of times from the administration of what they're trying to do. I think the most important thing for investors, though, is to realize that we're not going to return to March 2020.

This is not going to be back to square one. We have effective testing. You know, vaccines are going to be at least somewhat effective. We have treatments that we know can be somewhat effective. People have the idea of staying home when you get sick. So we have a lot of tools in our toolbox now that we didn't have that, which is going to make a huge difference for this new variant and any future variants.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: But Chris, I wonder how much of a difference this is going to make in terms of how voters are perceiving the Biden administration because the latest poll I saw has Biden's approval rating at yet a new low. I think just 52%-- or rather, 52% of voters disapprove of the job he's doing. Just 45% actually approve of it. So this plan that he just laid out, will that change perception at all? Does it change the needle in terms of how voters are going to feel about him and his administration?

CHRIS MEEKINS: I think they're in a really tough situation. At this point, they're trying to lean forward on the new variant and be aggressive, which, if this turns out to be a truly problematic variant, then the public will at least say, well, the president was taking steps. If it turns out to be, for lack of a better phrase, a nothing burger, then they're going to-- the public largely is going to lose confidence in the administration for making it seem like it was going to be worse than it was. And they run the risk of being the boy that cried wolf. So I think they're in a really difficult situation with this pandemic.

I think the public had thought that the new administration would come in and things would get under control, and it would be less dramatic. And it would be removing from those Twitter years we had in the Trump administration. And instead, what they're seeing is COVID is difficult to control, which we knew with pandemics. If you don't get it right away, it's going to be here a while. And second, the drama we've seen over the reconciliation bill with its Build Back Better initiative just made it seem like there's just more drama. And that's not what the American public voted for last November, in my opinion.

KARINA MITCHELL: And then I want to ask you very quickly about, you know, the fifth point that he made, which is that all of these virus cases have come from somewhere else. He says the US has extended more vaccines to the rest of the world than every other country combined together. And then he says the US will now send out more than-- will send out 200 million more doses. How effective do you think that is as a strategy in helping combat this?

CHRIS MEEKINS: Well, first and foremost, we don't know where this latest variant originated. What we know is we first identified it in Botswana and South Africa. But when we see cases popping up all over the globe, the idea that we have any clear guidance of exactly where this started and patient 0 for the new variant is just categorically untrue.

With regard to how we go forward from here, I think there's no question that until we see vaccinations and until we see a decrease in cases globally, we're going to continue to see variants pop up in many different places, whether it's in the US or overseas. So it is important to get the world vaccinated going forward and to control the virus on a global perspective. And no question in the early days, if China had taken different steps and notifying the world more quickly, we probably wouldn't be in the same situation we're in now. So clearly, what happens in other nations can impact us here at home.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Chris Meekins, Washington healthcare policy analyst at Raymond James, thanks so much for offering your perspective to--

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