American Rescue Plan Provides Billions In Funding To Public Health IT

While much of the latest COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11th is focused on individual assistance, vaccination efforts, and support to state governments, the new law also contains a number of provisions intended to support, modernize, and expand public health information technology.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the beneficiary of one such provision, with $500 million committed to a data modernization and forecasting center. The newly funded center, dedicated to bringing the United States’ efforts to forecast and track COVID-19 hotspots in real-time, will also serve as a resource to identify future disease threats, including new COVID variants. CDC data analytics, informatics infrastructure, and data collection systems will also receive support from the new funding stream.

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A further $7.5 billion in funding was provided for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which can be used toward "information technology, standards-based data, and reporting enhancements, including improvements necessary to support standards-based sharing of data related to vaccine distribution and vaccinations and systems that enhance vaccine safety, effectiveness and uptake, particularly among underserved populations." according to the text of the new law. An additional $500 million in grants have been allocated for rural healthcare, as well as an additional $140 million to the Indian Health Service for IT infrastructure improvements.

These allocations of funding come at a critical time for public health IT, a field that has suffered from a lack of funding for years. The shortage of support was most clear in the early stages of the pandemic, where public health organizations struggled to keep up with the swiftly spreading illness and its impact on the population.

Funding efforts to modify and improve IT infrastructure will pay dividends well beyond current circumstances, with public health organizations better positioned to tackle future outbreaks of new illnesses. Additionally, much of the funding can be used to improve telehealth capabilities, which can greatly expand access to healthcare for under-served populations. By modernizing the capabilities of public health IT, the American Rescue Plan looks to shore up infrastructure and improve the functioning of these critical organizations for years to come.