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Joe Biden faces difficult health care issue buried with coronavirus crisis

Joe Biden faces difficult health care issue buried with coronavirus crisis
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As President Biden had declared in his inaugural address, “Few people in our history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we are in now.” Many of these issues he spoke of came from or are exacerbated by the coronavirus. One area of the health care crisis, the declining state of mental and physical health, is a notable problem the new administration must deal with now.

The mental health of Americans overall has deteriorated as a result of the pandemic, and there have been more reports of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Given the necessity of social distancing and limiting physical contact with others to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which goes against our desire to gather, Americans are isolated.

Loneliness affects physical health. A recent study found that loneliness is a predictor of not just anxiety and depression but also declining physical health. It also increases cortisol production and elevates cytokines in the body, which means harmful inflammation. Declining mental health was a crisis even before the coronavirus. The National Institute of Mental Health found a steady rise in suicide rates from 2014 to 2018. Suicide is now the number two cause of death among young Americans.

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With regard to physical health and nutrition, the level at which our health care system was overwhelmed by the pandemic revealed how unhealthy Americans are. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that over 40 percent of Americans are obese. This could be detrimental and lead to problems such as heart disease, type two diabetes, and high blood pressure, all comorbidities for the coronavirus.

The pandemic has created circumstances that could worsen the obesity problem with the closures of gyms and fitness centers. More Americans are staying home and are less active in their daily lives, so they are more prone to binging as a result of anxiety and depression.

With the current declining state of mental and physical health, the new administration has a duty to handle this as a critical issue in health care reform. President Obama addressed mental health and lack of available services, and launched efforts to direct $100 million with mental health funds for schools, hospitals, and community centers.

The Affordable Care Act also increased access to mental health care, but gaps will need further reform. Though the Affordable Care Act mandated mental health coverage for certain plans, which has increased access to services, certain large group plans are not under that condition. Further, coverage and enforcement could be different across states, while over a dozen states have to broaden Medicaid under the law.

President Trump also relaxed certain restrictions, which gave some plans more flexibility to deny mental health care. This increased the burden on thousands with existing mental health conditions. As a literature analysis found, the new administration and Congress can tackle mental health by asking states to broaden Medicaid to fill current gaps, extend mandated essential health benefits to large group plans, and eliminate plans which do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act.

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There is still much to be done on physical health and nutrition. The last administration proposed a wellness program for states that would offer incentives to those with better overall health outcomes in exercise and nutrition. But this idea was criticized since it worsened one of the core problems with our health care system since it increased costs to those people who are not able to meet certain health metrics.

The new administration could push for funds and education for rural and vulnerable communities to end the mental and physical health gaps that exist in this country based on race and social status. It is clear that Biden and his team have a duty to illuminate the declining state of mental and physical health even after the pandemic is over, so they must take steps toward health care reform to make Americans stronger.

Douglas Schoen is a political consultant who served as campaign adviser for Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. Jessie Howkins holds a degree in exercise science and is also the founder with Pure Soul Personal Training.