How you (and your patients) can expect to benefit from the new infrastructure law

Alistair Gardiner | November 19, 2021

This month, President Joe Biden signed into law one of the largest infrastructure packages in American history, securing roughly $1.2 trillion in funding to bolster transport and communication systems—with promises that the law will strengthen healthcare services and health outcomes across the nation.  

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Farmer gives thumbs up on telemedicine

Expanded broadband service to rural parts of America is just one way the new infrastructure package signed into law by President Biden may benefit rural medicine.

The components of the infrastructure package pertaining to healthcare touch on everything from expanding healthcare access in rural areas and mitigating environmental pollution, to improving the health of hospitals and schools, ensuring workplace health and safety, improving conditions for essential home health workers, and protecting the public from future pandemics, among other initiatives. 

Of course, time will tell if the law will deliver on its promises. But here are five ways the new infrastructure law may affect the ways doctors provide care, boost patients’ health, and generally improve public health outcomes. 

1. Expanding internet infrastructure

According to the New York Times, the law includes $550 billion to fund new initiatives in several areas, including expanding broadband internet to rural parts of the country. The law earmarks $65 billion for systems that ensure that isolated populations have access to high-speed internet. This includes a subsidy program that grants one in four families $30 per month to help pay for high-speed broadband, according to Forbes.

In a statement, the White House said the internet is “necessary” for Americans to access healthcare, calling broadband internet “the new electricity.” However, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure—and these populations are disproportionately Black or Latino.

Expanding high-speed internet access while improving reliability and lowering cost would allow for the expansion of remote monitoring and telemedicine, and would provide rural clinicians with access to health IT tools like EHR.

2. Improving transportation 

According to a 2014 Journal of Community Health study, transportation issues are a common barrier to healthcare access and can lead to missed appointments, delayed care, and missed or delayed medication use. These factors contribute to the worsening of chronic illness and overall poorer health outcomes.

The new law includes $115 billion for roads and bridges, and another $85 billion for public transit, according to the New York Times. The funds cover a $2 billion grant program for expanding transportation projects in rural areas. According to the White House statement, the law will upgrade 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main streets.

A total of $39 billion will go toward modernizing public transportation systems, including improved access for the elderly and those with disabilities. According to Forbes, the plan aims to repair more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 railcars, and thousands of miles of train tracks.

If successful, this section of the law could represent a step toward reducing transportation issues as a barrier to healthcare.

3. Cleaning up the environment

The law aims to clean up pollution and environmental contamination. This includes $55 billion to eliminate lead piping. Another $10 billion has been set aside to remediate rural small water systems and household well and wastewater systems contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

According to the statement from the White House, an estimated 6-10 million American homes still have lead pipes and service lines. According to the EPA, lead contamination can lead to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia in children. In adults, lead exposure can lead to cardiovascular effects, decreased kidney function, and reproductive issues. The law aims to “replace 100 percent of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines” in the United States.

4. Giving manufacturing a boost

In another healthcare-centric measure, the law allocates $300 billion to improve advanced manufacturing. This includes a plan to protect America from future pandemics. The law earmarks $30 billion for medical countermeasures manufacturing, research and development, and related bio-preparedness and biosecurity, according to the White House statement.

Part of the plan involves spending the next 4 years expanding the US Strategic National Stockpile of pharmaceuticals and accelerating the timeline of research, development, and testing for emerging therapeutics. Funds will also go toward testing new technologies for the rapid scaling of vaccine production and ensuring the country has sufficient production capacity for the next emergency. 

5. Funding in-home care

Finally, the law earmarks funds to combat the caregiving crisis, which predates the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are unable to access in-home care, and caregivers earn an average of $12 per hour, leaving roughly one in six of these professionals in poverty. 

The law will inject $150 billion into the sector, which will expand access to long-term care services under Medicaid and support well-paying caregiving jobs that include benefits.

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