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  • Washington Highlights

    Health Community, Administration, Senate Prioritize COVID-19 Health Equity Efforts

    Brett Roude, Legislative Analyst
    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    A public health community letter, a White House announcement on new initiatives, and a Senate committee hearing all prioritized COVID-19 health equity efforts the week of March 22.

    The AAMC joined nearly 80 national organizations in a March 24 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leadership, underscoring the need for continued investment in communities of color and communities that are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The letter was co-led by Trust for America’s Health, the American Public Health Association, and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

    On March 25, the White House announced a $10 billion investment to “expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and build vaccine confidence in hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.” The fact sheet on the investment details that $6 billion will go to Community Health Centers to expand vaccine access to underserved communities, $3 billion will be dedicated to building vaccine confidence, and $330 million will support community health workers. The fact sheet also announced a new private-public partnership with dialysis clinics to vaccinate their patients.

    On the same day, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing titled, “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: Improving Health Equity and Outcomes by Addressing Health Disparities.” Representatives from academic medicine testifying included Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, vice president for health equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Gene Woods, MBA, MHA, FACHE, president and chief executive officer at Atrium Health.

    In her opening statement, Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) noted, “We also still lack federal reporting requirements for congregate care facilities, including for people with disabilities who have also been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. And the challenge before us is to not only accurately collect and report the data—but act on the realities we already see in front of us, and keep gathering information to improve our response.” 

    Murray also discussed her September 2020 report, “COVID-19 & Achieving Health Equity: Congressional Action Is Necessary To Address Racism And Inequality In The U.S. Health Care System,” which highlighted the need for a dedicated strategy to combat COVID-19 for communities of color.   

    Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) added, “The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority populations, people in rural areas, and others has revealed cracks in our health care system that persist despite efforts to improve care…Our response efforts must leverage technology to improve our surveillance capabilities and inform our public health decision making. And, our policies should encourage the incorporation of new technology, strategies, and partnerships to solve old problems and challenges.”

    During her testimony, Wilkins discussed the importance of race, ethnicity, and language data in addressing COVID-19 health disparities, while Woods highlighted the importance of working with local communities and creating public-private partnerships to instill trust for minority and underrepresented communities.