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PREPARED REMARKS: Chairman Sanders Leads HELP Committee Hearing on Minority Health Care Professionals and the Maternity Mortality Crisis

WASHINGTON, May 2 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today led the committee in a hearing titled, “What Can Congress Do to Address the Severe Shortage of Minority Health Care Professionals and the Maternal Health Crisis?”

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watch here:

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will come to order.

Today, our committee is going to focus on two extremely important health care crises that must be addressed: 1) The major need for more Black, Latino and Native American doctors and medical professionals; and 2) The alarming rate of maternal deaths in America that is disproportionately impacting Black, Latina and Native American women.

In the midst of a healthcare system that – in my view – is largely broken and dysfunctional, where we spend almost twice as much per capita as almost any other major country on healthcare, and where 85 million Americans today are uninsured or under-insured, we don’t have enough doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health specialists or pharmacists … we have another crisis on top of that.

And that is the lack of medical personnel is especially acute in Black, Latino, and Native American communities, which is the subject of our hearing today.

Despite making up almost 14% of our population, just 5% of all doctors, less than 4% of all dentists and just 6% of all nurses in America are Black.

Further, despite making up over 19% of our population, just 6% of doctors and dentists and just 7% of nurses in America are Latino.

And we cannot forget the Native American community which makes up 1.3% of our population but just three tenths of one percent of all doctors in this country.

So, why is this an important issue that we’ve got to address?

Well, the answer is that, study after study has shown that when Black, Latino and Native American patients have access to Black, Latino and Native American doctors their health outcomes substantially improve, they are more likely to receive preventative services, they are more satisfied with their care and they are more likely to live longer and happier lives.

In my view, it is unacceptable that life expectancy, on average – which is low in America in general – is about 5 years lower for Black Americans and 11 years lower for Native Americans than it is for White Americans.

It is unacceptable that Black Americans are more likely to die of heart disease and have the highest rates of cancer of any other group in America.

It is not acceptable that Black Americans are more than twice as likely to have diabetes – a major epidemic in America – than White Americans.

And one of the most alarming and troubling health disparities in America is the maternal mortality rate which is the other major focus we are going to be talking about today.

In America today, we have the highest maternal mortality rate and the highest infant mortality rate of any other wealthy country on earth.

In fact, the maternal mortality rate in America is 19 times higher than Norway and 4 times higher than France.

Incredibly, according to the CDC, women in America today are twice as likely to die from childbirth than their mothers.

And as bad as this crisis is overall, it is much, much worse for Black women and infants.

In America today, Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts.

This crisis is also getting significantly worse for Latina women.  Between 2019 and 2020, the Latina maternal mortality rate skyrocketed by 44 percent - in just one year.

Meanwhile, Black infants in America are almost 4 times more likely to die from complications due to low birthweight than white infants.

So, the question then becomes, given that reality, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to address what is obviously a major health care crisis in America?

And that, of course, is the subject we will be discussing this morning

Here are just a few of the things I believe we must do.

We need to substantially increase the class sizes of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

We need to pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act introduced by Senator Booker and Senator Butler. 

We need to substantially increase funding for the Women, Infants and Children program.

We need to substantially increase funding for the National Health Service Corps.

And, in my view, we need to cancel student debt and make all public colleges and universities tuition free, so that all people – regardless of background – can get the education they need, including medical school.

The good news is that making medical school tuition-free is a growing idea.

In fact, four medical schools in America, including the New York University School of Medicine, are currently tuition free, while five others have made tuition temporarily free or are offering free tuition to working class students.

We have a lot to talk about today, I look forward to a serious discussion about a serious issue, and I thank our panelists who are here with us.