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Warren, Pressley Pen Letter to HHS Over Admin's Response to Racial Health Disparities Amid COVID-19

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Two Democratic lawmakers are teaming up to call on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to provide information, as they look to reduce racial health disparities amid COVID-19.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) penned a letter, first obtained by Politico, to Azar on Tuesday, where they wrote, “To help us understand why HHS under the Trump Administration has failed to take appropriate action to address racial disparities in health care and health outcomes, we ask that you, please provide the requested documents and answers to the following questions.”

The two lawmakers addressed concerns that there are serious racial health disparities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“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,” they wrote.

Warren and Pressley note that reports from the HHS to Congress are required by law bi-annually on progress to address racial health disparities, but, as they write, “these reports appear to have stopped under the Trump Administration.”

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

They also note the Affordable Care Act, which required the Office of Minority Health to provide Congress with a report every two years, but, as they note, the administration did not publicly produce the reports in 2017 and 2019. They added that if those reports are not available, they would like an explanation as to why not.

Additionally, they asked Azar to “provide the latest reports produced by HHS’s six sub-agencies for the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health,” adding, “If these reports do not exist, please explain why not.”

The two Congresswomen went on to note that “people of color are disproportionately likely to contract COVID-19,” citing an expert who noted that factors include “working in essential jobs, living in crowded housing conditions, or lacking access to health care,” as the letter reads.

As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black Americans have a hospitalization rate of roughly 5 times more than a non-Hispanic white American, regarding COVID-19.

Citing why racial and ethnic minority groups are at a higher risk for COVID-19, the CDC also notes living conditions, work conditions, and health circumstances.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just the latest and clearest manifestation of racial disparities affecting health outcomes — but it should come as no surprise,” Warren and Pressley wrote.

The two lawmakers are requesting a response “no later than July 28, 2020.”

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