In a wide-ranging joint address to Congress on Wednesday, President Joe Biden stressed the importance of making healthcare more broadly accessible and called on lawmakers to invest in American health innovation.
“Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege, in America,” said Biden.
Along with pushing to give Medicare the power to lower drug prices and urging Americans older than 16 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Biden outlined his American Jobs Plan, which would put $100 billion toward revitalizing digital infrastructure in the United States.
“Broadband Internet is the new electricity,” said White House officials in a fact sheet on the plan posted on March 31. “It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, healthcare and to stay connected.”
As telehealth advocates have noted, broadband access – or the lack thereof – is a crucial factor in virtual care equity.
Biden’s jobs plan would aim to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage, prioritizing support for broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives.
Although rural access is certainly an issue, many people in urban and suburban areas remain unconnected. One issue is affordability – people may not be able to pay the monthly bill for high-speed Internet that video telehealth requires.
Biden’s jobs plan says that individual subsidies to cover costs are not a long-term solution.
“Americans pay too much for the Internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the president is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce Internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the plan reads.
In his speech Wednesday, Biden also called for the creation of an agency dedicated to breakthroughs in health research, analogous to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
The National Institutes of Health, the president said, “should create a similar advanced research projects agency for health. And that would – here’s what it would do: It would have a singular purpose, to develop breakthroughs to prevent, detect and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer.”
Biden touted his administration’s COVID-19 response, saying that the administration is working to set up community vaccination sites for hard-to-reach communities. (He did not, however, offer an update on the national COVID-19 vaccine finder website he’d said would be available by the start of next month.)
He also outlined a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which would offer paid family and medical leave among other policy changes.
As Healthcare Finance News‘ Susan Morse wrote Wednesday night, industry reactions to the speech were largely positive, if not overly effusive.
“We were heartened to hear President Biden reiterate his commitment to seeking $100 billion in his infrastructure plan to ensure that every American has access to robust broadband, including the 35% of rural America that has no access at all,” said Connected Nation chairman and CEO Thomas W. Ferree in a statement.
“Not only will such an investment create jobs and keep America competitive globally; it will also ensure that every American, regardless of where they live, can pursue an education, receive healthcare, and participate in the economy,” Ferree continued.
“Thankfully, this is a true bipartisan issue where common ground can be found – and we’re confident that Republicans and Democrats will come together to make this investment a reality and close the Digital Divide once and for all,” he added.
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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