Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reintroduced the AAMC-supported Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act, a bill she had originally offered in the 116th Congress to invest in public health infrastructure across the country, on March 10.
With support from an additional 19 Democratic original co-sponsors and more than 120 organizations, the bill would provide funding for grants through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to jurisdictional health departments that would reach $4.5 billion annually by fiscal year 2026 and beyond. The funding would be intended to support core public health functions including public health assessment, preparedness and response, community partnership development, public communications, and addressing equity.
“As we continue our efforts to end the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and rebuild stronger and fairer, it’s critical we end the cycle of crisis and complacency when it comes to funding for public health. Because the simple fact is—public health infrastructure saves lives,” Chairwoman Murray said in a press statement.
AAMC Chief Public Policy Officer Karen Fisher, JD, sent a March 16 letter of endorsement for the legislation. “To date, the federal funding strategy for public health primarily has favored a crisis-response approach over robust, sustained investment. … Your legislation would provide critical support to recover some of this lost capacity and to stabilize investment over the long-term,” Fisher said. “By providing dedicated, reliable funding to augment annual federal appropriations, the bill will enable health departments to address core infrastructure needs, from bolstering public health surveillance and lab capacity to implementing strategies that advance equity.”
The HELP Committee heard testimony from four witnesses about the need for a more robust investment in public health infrastructure in a March 9 hearing, “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: An Update from the Frontlines.”
“There’s a cost to chronic underfunding,” said Umair Shah, MD, MPH, Washington state secretary of health. “Everyone, everywhere, in all communities, should be able to rely on strong public health systems. This pandemic has shown the shortcomings of our current system, including for emergency response. This is due to the fact that we have not adequately invested in it.”
Witnesses also described other challenges facing the public health and health care workforces, including the impact of the pandemic on clinician well-being, as well as financial pressures on hospitals and health systems because of the pandemic.
“The substantial financial impacts of COVID-19 on hospital and health systems will also have lasting effects. Systems now face difficult decisions to reduce costs,” said Mary Ann Fuchs, DNP, RN, vice president of patient care and system chief nurse executive at Duke University Health System. “Additional support is needed, including eliminating further reductions and payments through federal programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, to maintain access to care.”