Warren, Pressley demand answers from Trump administration on racial health inequities during COVID-19 pandemic

As the coronavirus ravages communities of color, the administration has failed to report on racial disparities in care as required by law, the legislators wrote.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, stands onstage with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., before speaking at a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley in February. –Patrick Semansky / AP

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, demanding a report detailing how the Trump Administration plans to mitigate and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of color. 

In the letter to Secretary Alex Azar, the Massachusetts politicians highlighted the need to address the systemic racism and racial disparities in health care in order to control the pandemic, stressing the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color.

The Trump administration, they wrote, has failed to report on racial disparities in health care as required by law under the Affordable Care Act.  

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“The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has laid bare the deepest and most entrenched chronic public health crisis plaguing our country: systemic racism,” Warren and Pressley wrote. “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 Department of Health and Human Services (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,” they wrote.

Under the Affordable Care Act, HHS is required to report every two years through the Office of Minority Health to Congress on efforts to reduce racial health disparities, which Warren and Pressley say did not occur as mandated in either 2017 or 2019.

“We want answers,” Pressley wrote on Twitter of the letter. 

Nationally, data shows that communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19, which Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns and pushed for action about in recent months. 

In Massachusetts, data collected by the state revealed that Black and Hispanic residents in the Bay State have experienced a coronavirus-positive case rate that is three times higher than white residents. They also are seeing disproportionately higher rates of hospitalization and death from the virus compared to the state’s white and Asian populations.

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The latest effort by the two Democrats to address the racial health disparities being exacerbated by the pandemic follows after Warren and Pressley urged HHS in March to collect racial and ethnic demographic data on testing and treatment for COVID-19 in order to identify and address racial disparities. In April, Warren introduced legislation that would require the federal government to collect and report coronavirus demographic data.

In their Wednesday letter, Warren and Pressley asked that by July 28, Azar provide information explaining why the mandated reports to Congress have not been produced, produce the latest reports by six sub-agencies within the department, and any additional updates on how HHS has undertaken to address racial disparities in health outcomes in the past five years. 

Warren and Pressley wrote they are requesting the information to understand “why HHS under the Trump Administration has failed to take appropriate action to address racial disparities in health care and health outcomes.”

“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “You have, to date, failed to do so, with tragic consequences.”

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