Collins’ bipartisan bill boosts infectious disease preparedness, response workforce

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on Nov. 18 signed on as the lead original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation to establish a new student loan repayment program for infectious disease clinicians and other public health preparedness and response professionals.

“The ongoing public health emergency has underscored the importance of investing in a robust medical workforce,” said Sen. Collins, adding that the bill would attract “more students to this critical field” and help the nation prepare for future crises.

The Bolstering Infectious Outbreaks (BIO) Preparedness Workforce Act of 2021, S. 3244, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), addresses retention and recruitment issues and aims to better prepare the American healthcare system for future public health emergencies, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Collins’ office. 

“We need to encourage students to pursue careers in health care and eliminate barriers to getting this vital training — such as nursing faculty shortages or financial disincentives to pursuing certain specialties,” Sen. Collins said. 

Specifically, S. 3244 would establish the new student loan repayment program for infectious disease clinicians and bio-preparedness healthcare professionals, including physicians, clinical pharmacists, physician assistants, advanced practice registered nurses, infection preventionists, and laboratory professionals, among others, according to the text of the bill.

For each year of obligated service that an individual contracts to serve under the bill, the government “may pay up to $50,000 on behalf of the individual for loans” under the program, according to the bill. With respect to participants under the program whose total eligible loans are less than $150,000, the government would pay an amount that does not exceed one-third of the eligible loan balance for each year of obligated service.

“We need to use all the tools in the tool box to be better prepared, and that starts with making sure we support and grow our infectious disease and pandemic preparedness workforce,” said Sen. Baldwin.

The bill is supported by numerous organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Dental Association, the Association of Professionals in Infection Prevention and Epidemiology, and many others.