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Congressional Committee Explores COVID-19 Health Disparities

June 19, 2020

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CONTACTS
Brett Roude, Legislative Analyst

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on June 17 to examine the health inequities experienced by racial and ethnic minorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AAMC submitted a statement for the record that highlights how medical schools and teaching hospitals are working with their communities to mitigate health disparities seen during COVID-19 and makes federal policy recommendations to address health inequities in communities of color.

Throughout the hearing, witnesses discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored broader systemic issues impacting racial and ethnic minority health, such as affordable housing, food access, economic security, access to quality health care, and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic in nursing homes.

The witnesses also addressed the need for robust testing in minority communities, advocated for comprehensive data collection of minorities affected by the disease, and stressed the importance of distributing a potential vaccine to minority communities to help mitigate some health inequities caused by COVID-19.

In her opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said, “We have long known that people of color experience disparities in health care in the United States. These long-term trends are rooted in several social determinants that are often driven by structural discrimination and institutionalized racism, which has created systemic health inequity.”

Echoing Rep. Eshoo’s concerns, Ranking Member Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said he particularly worries about the convergence of COVID-19 and individuals who are suffering from other chronic conditions, such as diabetes.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives have historically been more prone to chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension –underlying conditions that no matter race or ethnicity, increase the risk of contracting and dying from the virus,” said Rep. Burgess.

In response to a question by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) on the impact of telehealth, Rhea Boyd  MD, MPH, pediatrician and child health advocate for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, responded, “Telehealth is a great opportunity for groups that may have issues with transportation, but there is also a big gap in broadband coverage for many Americans, particularly those in communities of color.”

Oliver Brooks, MD, president of the National Medical Association, discussed the importance of investing in programs that recruit underrepresented minorities into the health professions pipeline, which would help reduce implicit bias and can mitigate disparities for patients of color.

Previously, the House Ways and Means Committee investigated the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color at a May 27 hearing [see Washington Highlights, May 29].

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