Gotham Gazette

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How Health Care, Tech, and the New Federal Infrastructure Law Must Connect

health care internet hospital patients

Getting health help through infrastructure (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

President Biden and Congress took a significant step in shoring up access to health care by enacting the infrastructure bill.

The COVID-19 crisis shined a spotlight on broadband inequity and its impact on access to health-care services. While our country leapt forward on digital health, some of the neighborhoods and families who need it most were left out.

In July 2020, EmblemHealth surveyed New Yorkers and found nearly one-third of Black-led and almost one-quarter of low-income households had inadequate access to the internet, compared to just 18% of the general population. Low-income and Black households were also less likely to have more than one digital device at home, further limiting their ability to use telehealth. 

Policy discussions celebrate the milestone that serious health conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and high-blood pressure, can now be monitored from home by using apps that connect directly to your doctor. But that often requires individuals to have good internet connections and robust data plans. Many families rotate through phones, have limited data plans, or have no phones altogether. The digital divide is a deficit, and reducing health care disparities requires expanding broadband access.

The new infrastructure law will help close these gaps. It commits $65 billion in federal funding to increase broadband access in underserved areas, including a $30 per month voucher for low-income families to use toward an internet service plan of their choice. This assistance will unlock access to digital health, telehealth, and at-home health monitoring.

These changes will make a difference for American families, including many in New York City. It’s also a wakeup call to the policy community, which has embraced the promise and potential of digital health, not to lose sight of people without access or with limited access. Passage and enactment of this legislation will have tangible results. Now the challenge is for all of us working in the system to unlock this potential for the people we serve.

Karen Ignagni serves as President and CEO of the EmblemHealth family of companies.

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