03.25.21

Senator Murray Leads Hearing on Confronting Systemic Inequities in Health Care Within COVID-19 Response

HELP Committee held a hearing today on health inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic

 

 Senator Murray: “The reality of health inequities is that how you live, and even whether you live or die in a pandemic, is impacted by your race, your income, your zip code, your disability, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, and these factors intersect in ways that compound injustice if you are, for example, a woman of color, or a person with a low income and a disability.

 

Murray highlighted the fact that while COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are disproportionately high for Black, Latino, and Tribal communities, they have gotten tests, therapeutics, and vaccines at lower rates than white people

 

This morning the Biden Administration announced a $10 billion investment to address vaccine equity

 

Senator Murray released a report on health equity last year

 

Senator Murray: “The history is a long and painful one, and comprehensive action is well overdue.

  

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, held a hearing focused on health inequity in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray spoke about the harm longstanding health inequities have done to people across the country, and walked through the facts of how these inequities have made the COVID-19 pandemic more deadly for communities of color, people with disabilities, and other underserved communities.

 

“When we talk about inequities, we are talking about the reality that people’s health suffers because of systemic issues like how far they are from quality, affordable, accessible, culturally competent care; whether they are recruited for clinical trials or the health care workforce; and issues including ‘social determinants of health’—things like where people are born, live, and work,” said Senator Murray. “The reality of health inequities is that how you live, and even whether you live or die in a pandemic, is impacted by your race, your income, your zip code, your disability, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, and these factors intersect in ways that compound injustice if you are, for example, a woman of color, or a person with a low income and a disability. And now the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened these inequities to devastating effect, and made it even more urgent we look at how we got to this awful point—and what to do.”

 

Data show that COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are disproportionately high for Black, Latino, and Tribal communities, while these same communities have gotten tests, therapeutics, and vaccines at lower rates than white people. People with disabilities have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with intellectual disability being one of the most predictive factors for COVID death after age.

 

In her opening remarks, Senator Murray also spoke about the need for better demographic data, something she has pushed to improve throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She also highlighted some of the recent steps the Biden Administration has taken to address disparities, including its announcement earlier today of a $10 billion investment in funding from the American Rescue Plan to expand vaccine access and build vaccine confidence in underserved communities.

 

Senator Murray concluded her opening remarks, by acknowledging inequities in health care expand well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and calling on Congress to take long overdue action, like steps she laid out in a report on health inequities last year, to root out injustice in the health care system.

 

“Of course, while the pandemic has put a harsh spotlight on inequities in health care—they were a problem long before this crisis began, and our work to end them must continue even after it ends. Because the same injustices we are seeing play out with COVID have been playing out with maternal mortality, mental health, cancer, and so many other health issues for years.  I put out a report last year that outlined the many ways our health care system has failed communities of color and others due to entrenched bias, discrimination, ableism, and racism. The history is a long and painful one, and comprehensive action is well overdue.”

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

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

 

“Today we are holding a hearing on how we can address the health inequities that have made this pandemic so much more deadly for some communities than others.

 

“Ranking Member Burr and I will each have an opening statement, and then Senator Burr and I will introduce today’s witnesses.

 

“After the witnesses give their testimony, Senators will each have five minutes for a round of questions.

 

“Before we begin, I want to walk through the COVID-19 safety protocols in place. 

 

“We will follow the advice of the Attending Physician and the Sergeant at Arms in conducting this hearing. Committee members are seated at least six feet apart and some Senators are participating by video conference.

 

“And while we are unable to have the hearing fully open to the public or media for in-person attendance, live video is available on our Committee website at help.senate.gov.

 

And if you are in need of accommodations, including closed captioning, you can reach out to the Committee or the Office of Congressional Accessibility Services.

 

“We are all very grateful to everyone—including our clerks—who has worked so hard to get this set up and help everyone stay safe and healthy.

 

“When we talk about inequities, we are talking about the reality that people’s health suffers because of systemic issues—like how far they are from quality, affordable, accessible, culturally competent care.

 

“Whether they are recruited for clinical trials or the health care workforce, and issues including “social determinants of health”—things like where people are born, live, and work.

 

“The reality of health inequities, is that how you live, and even whether you live or die in a pandemic is impacted by your race, your income, your zip code, your disability, your gender identity, your sexual orientation—and these factors intersect in ways that compound injustice, if you are, for example a woman of color, or a person with a low income, and a disability.

 

“And now the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened these inequities to devastating effect, and made it even more urgent we look at how we got to this awful point—and what to do.

 

“Here are the facts: Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have the highest COVID-19 infection rate.

 

“American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest death and hospitalization rates.

 

“One of the strongest predictors of death for COVID-19, next to age, is having an intellectual disability.

“In the wake of this pandemic, we have also seen an unacceptable and ugly uptick in hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, like we saw last week in Georgia.


“And while the hospitalization rate for Black people and the rate for Latinx people are both around three times that for white people—and the death rates for each group are twice as high as that for white people—their vaccination rates are both half of the white population’s.

 

“The picture painted by the data so far is grim—and despite improvements, that picture is still incomplete.

 

“I secured a provision in law last year requiring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide monthly reports on COVID-19 demographic data with information on sex, age, race, and ethnicity.

 

“Since the first report last May, the percentage of cases with complete racial data has increased from 21 to 71 percent, and complete ethnic data has increased from 18 to 55 percent—meaning we still have plenty of room for progress.

 

“Even on hospitalizations, where we’ve gone from having data on 40 percent of cases a year ago, to nearly 100 percent of cases now—the data fails to break out certain race and ethnicity data.

 

“For example, aggregating data on Asian American and Pacific Islander populations in a way that leaves us without a full vision into health inequities.

“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.

 

“Which is why I’m glad we were able to make critical investments in the American Rescue Plan to support communities of color, people with disabilities, Tribes, and other underserved communities.

 

“President Biden has also made this a priority by establishing his COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force on January 21.

 

“Today, the Administration announced a $10 billion investment of funding from the American Rescue Plan to expand vaccine access and build vaccine confidence in underserved communities.

 

“The Administration recently announced over $2 billion for an initiative supporting state, local, and territorial health departments as they address COVID-related health disparities.

 

“And it also set up a program to distribute vaccines directly to 950 community health centers, which have been a lifeline to some of our hardest hit, and hardest to reach communities during this pandemic.

 

“These investments—along with efforts from state and local governments, and trusted community partners—are critical to making sure we get vaccines and information to communities of color, people with disabilities, rural communities, people with limited English proficiency, and people who lack access to the internet.

 

“Which in turn is critical to ending this pandemic for every community.

 

“Of course, while the pandemic has put a harsh spotlight on inequities in health care—they were a problem long before this crisis began, and our work to end them must continue even after it ends.

 

“Because the same injustices we are seeing play out with COVID have been playing out with maternal mortality, mental health, cancer, and so many other health issues for years.

 

“I put out a report last year that outlined the many ways our health care system has failed communities of color and others due to entrenched bias, discrimination, ableism, and racism.

 

“The history is a long and painful one, and comprehensive action is well overdue.

 

“Steps not only to address the inequities of this pandemic—but also to root them out of the health care system altogether, like: Prohibiting discrimination in the health care system, and requiring anti-racist and anti-bias training.

 

“Providing support for people in underrepresented communities to participate in clinical trials, pursue a career in medical research, or become a health care provider.

 

“Ensuring everyone has quality, affordable health coverage, the support of strong public health infrastructure, and paid family, sick, and medical leave.

 

“These are a few of the recommendations I made in that report.

 

“And I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about these challenges during today’s discussion on improving health equity. 

 

“I really want to underscore, as I said when I first spoke about becoming Chair of this committee: health equity is personally important to me and I know to so many of us here today.

 

“We’ve all heard about it from people we represent—we know how painful and how present this injustice is across all our states.

 

“I believe our work on this committee can make a difference and I look forward to our discussion today, and the work ahead.

 

“And now I’ll turn it over to the Ranking Member, Senator Burr, for his opening remarks.”

 

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