Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley issued a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday requesting a report detailing the Trump administration’s response to racial health disparities exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak.
The letter, which highlights the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, represents another push from Democrats for President Donald Trump to take action to alleviate the damage of the virus on minorities. Warren and Pressley assert missing reports on racial disparities, legally required under the Affordable Care Act, have contributed to a poor federal coronavirus response.
Since its initial spread in the United States early this year, scores of lawmakers and public health experts have urged his administration to prioritize Black, Latino and Native American communities in its coronavirus response. From California to Texas, in rural and suburban communities, coronavirus has taken an inordinate toll on minority populations.
“The unjust reality that Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately infected and killed by COVID-19 underscores that racism, discrimination, and bias are public health problems that the federal government must prioritize,” the lawmakers wrote, in a letter first provided to POLITICO. “Without successfully addressing these racial disparities in health outcomes and health care access, we will not be able to mitigate and fully control the COVID-19 pandemic. You have, to date, failed to do so, with tragic consequences.”
As Covid-19 cases continue to spike across the country, communities of color remain the most negatively impacted. Black and Latino patients are contracting and dying of the virus at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group, something that has exposed medical and economic disparities in healthcare across races. In addition, a lack of complete data to illustrate which groups are being tested and properly diagnosed has further obscured the full view of its impact.
Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, HHS is required to submit a report to Congress detailing its efforts to alleviate racial health disparities every two years through the Office of Minority Health. The Trump administration has not submitted a report for 2017 or 2019. In their letter, Warren and Pressley — who have written to the Trump administration repeatedly on the issue of minority health during the pandemic — requested these reports and an explanation for the delay in submitting them.
The lawmakers also asked for updated reports from HHS’ six subcommittees and the agency as a whole with updates on what the administration has done to alleviate racial health disparities over the last five years, as required under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.
“[HHS] is required by law to report biannually to Congress on its progress to address health disparities, but these reports appear to have stopped under the Trump Administration,” the lawmakers wrote.
Warren and Pressley are requesting a response from the Trump administration by July 28. In April, a measure drafted by the two lawmakers, mandating the Centers for Disease Control and other HHS agencies collect and report coronavirus demographic data. . Parts of the legislation mandating that the agencies report the data were passed in a relief package. So far, the CDC has issued two reports required by the bill.
HHS also recently awarded a grant to Morehouse School of Medicine to work with local communities to address minority populations hardest hit by the disease. A number of CDC staffers have also been deployed to states experiencing increases, some to better understand outbreaks disproportionately impacting people of color.