It is abundantly clear from quantitative data and personal testimony that COVID-19 is disproportionately ravaging communities of color across the nation. The disparities in COVID testing, treatment and health outcomes have laid bare systemic inequities across the United States. In their first virtual hearing, the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), conducted a hearing entitled “Disproportionate Impact on People of Color during COVID-19” in an effort to shine light on the longstanding racial inequities that have plagued our country long before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The hearing provided a forum to amplify the racism embedded in our nation’s history and policies that (along with a number of other complex factors) contribute to and exacerbate the health inequities amongst our nation’s most vulnerable communities. Community Catalyst submitted written comments to the committee to be included in the hearing record.
Expert witnesses provided key data points and valuable perspectives to inform future policies that intend to address health and racial inequities. Witnesses featured in the hearing were Ibram X. Kendi, PhD, Dr. Raynald Samoa, Thomas Dean Sequist, MD, MPH, Dr. Alicia Fernandez, James Hildreth, PhD, MD, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, PhD. Standout statements from each of their testimonies that capture their key messages include:
“People of color want freedom.” – Ibram X. Kendi, PhD
“There is no voice for Pacific Islander health on the national level.” – Raynald Samoa, MD
“…the situation remains incredibly dire for thousands of Navajo people who are fighting for their lives, for their dignity, and for their way of life.” – Thomas Dean Sequist, MD, MPH
“The prototypical COVID-19 patient in our hospital is a Latino middle age man with diabetes, a low-wage worker who is continuing to work.” – Alicia Fernandez, MD
“[African American’s] history of abuse at the hands of America’s medical establishment, and of misunderstanding rooted in cultural differences, is too long and fraught with missteps” – James Hildreth, PhD, MD
“Racial and ethnic minorities constitute a disproportionate share of the people hospitalized and dying from COVID-19” – Douglas Holtz-Eakin, PhD
These statements should drive policymakers to urgent action to address the historical inequities and erasure that communities of color have experienced, in what we hope to be the next COVID-19 stimulus package. Ultimately, the witnesses call on Congress to take on anti-racist policies and supportive measures to address the inequities that COVID-19 has highlighted.
What might this look like?
Experts provided a spectrum of recommendations. Some of them include:
Comprehensive data and research on testing, infection and mortality rate broken down by race, ethnicity and primary/preferred language.
Increased funding for the Indian Health Service.
Funding for historically Black colleges and Universities (HBCU) medical schools and community health centers to carry out more rapid and expedited testing in lower-income, minority communities.
Increased access to telehealth and technology, including investments in broadband connection for all, ensuring no one is left behind.
Reimbursing providers for COVID-19 related care to the uninsured, as well as condemning the practice of balance billing for these services.
Increasing the supply, training and support of providers of color, who are better equipped to work with communities of color and earn their trust.
Protection and funding for small businesses, essential workers and affected industries.
As an organization committed to equity, we concur. Community Catalyst’s own policy recommendations go hand-in-hand with the recommendations from key national experts. Firstly, we strongly urge Congress to increase FMAP for Medicaid and lengthen its availability through the duration of this economic downturn. As state budgets struggle, increased federal funding for Medicaid can help stimulate state and local economies, which can help protect residents from the worst effects of the economic downturn. Eliminating cost-sharing for COVID-19 related care and medical debt are crucial, as many individuals who seek care are financially compromised. And lastly, echoing the sentiments of the expert witnesses, we demand more transparency and disaggregation of racial and ethnic data regarding the impact of the virus. It is impossible to start adequately and accurately addressing the inequities experienced by people of color without that “real data,” as Dr. Fernandez called it.
“The freedom from infection, the freedom from death.”
This final statement from Ibram X. Kendi’s testimony powerfully encompasses the bottom-line demand from people of color and advocates all over the country: the right to live a healthy life and the necessary supports to ensure that stability. People of color have been fighting for this right since the inception of this country, and we refuse to stand by idly nor quietly as our family, friends and loved ones are dying by the hands of racist policies and poor leadership.