Jan 15, 2021 - Health

Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan

Picture of Joe Biden putting on a mask on stage with Kamala Harris standing behind him

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The big picture: Money alone can't save us from the virus, and Biden's plan is far from guaranteed to become law, but boosting funding for testing and vaccinations could help bolster the public health tools that experts have been saying for months are vital, yet inadequate.

Details: Biden's plan calls for $20 billion for a national vaccine program, which would create community vaccination centers around the country and send mobile vaccination units to areas that are hard to reach.

  • It would also provide an additional $50 billion for testing and $130 billion to help schools safely reopen.
  • Other elements of the plan, like emergency paid leave, would indirectly help tame the virus by helping people stay home when they're sick without sacrificing income.

Biden also slipped one of the biggest pieces of his plan to strengthen the Affordable Care Act into the proposal, which he says is in response to the millions of Americans who have lost health coverage during the pandemic.

  • He calls for an increase of ACA subsidies, so that enrollees pay no more than 8.5% of their income for coverage. Subsidies are currently capped at 400% of the federal poverty level, creating an affordability cliff for middle-income Americans.
  • He also asks Congress to subsidize COBRA through the end of September.

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