By ALEXANDRA JAFFE
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris announced Monday that the Biden administration is investing $1.5 billion from the coronavirus aid package to address the health care worker shortage in underserved communities.
The funding will go to the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs, all federal programs that offer scholarship and loan repayments for health care students and workers if they pledge to work in underserved and high-risk communities.
“Our nation must invest in a health care workforce that looks like America, and provide access to equitable health care for all Americans,” Harris said.
The money, which includes funds from the American Rescue Plan and other sources, will support more than 22,700 providers, marking the largest number of providers enrolled in these programs in history, according to the White House. It comes in response to recommendations laid out earlier this month by the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which issued a report outlining how the administration could address systemic inequality in the health care system.
The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated health care disparities for minority and underserved communities. According to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, over the course of the pandemic, minority Americans have seen higher numbers of cases and higher rates of death than their white counterparts.
“COVID-19 did not invent health disparities. Just ask any healthcare professional and she will tell you: Health disparities existed long before this virus reached our shores. Health disparities stem from broader systemic inequities,” she said.
It’s just the latest investment from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in March of this year, aimed at addressing health disparities among minority and underserved communities. Earlier this month, the White House announced an additional $785 million in funding for federal programs aimed at improving diversity in the public health workforce and supporting people with disabilities.
During the Monday event, Harris pushed for passage of President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social safety net and climate change package, which would provide funding to temporarily close the Medicaid coverage gap and expand access to health insurance marketplace subsidies through 2025.
Harris said the package would also make a historic investment in maternal health “to address the tragedy of black maternal mortality in America.”
Black women in the U.S. are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as others, partly because of racial bias they may experience in getting care and doctors not recognizing risk factors such as high blood pressure.