A trio of Democrats on Thursday introduced legislation to declare structural racism a public health crisis and to create a federal government center to tackle racial disparities in health care for Black communities and other minorities.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., teamed up with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to unveil their plan to require the federal government to begin actively developing “anti-racist health policy.” The lawmakers pointed to the coronavirus pandemic and police brutality ‒ which has set off a summer of racial unrest in America ‒ as reasons to pass the legislation.
“It is time we start treating structural racism like we would treat any other public health problem or disease: investing in research into its symptoms and causes and finding ways to mitigate its effects,” Warren, the former presidential candidate, said in a statement. “My bill with Representatives Lee and Pressley is a first step to create anti-racist federal health policy that studies and addresses disparities in health outcomes at their roots.”
The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act would create a “National Center for Anti-Racism” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research the health impacts of racism and create at least three regional centers in anti-racism to educate the public and to help coordinate better health care outcomes. The legislation would also create a “Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program” at the CDC to combat police brutality.
“For far too long, our federal government has failed to recognize and address the structural racism that has devastated Black and brown communities and denied access to quality health care,” Pressley, a member of the so-called Squad, said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic unveiling and exacerbating racial disparities in health outcomes, it is time we recognize and treat structural racism and police brutality as the public health crises that they are.”
The lawmakers said the coronavirus pandemic exposed racial inequities in the health care system that can no longer be ignored. The coronavirus is disproportionately infecting communities of color. And those who contract the virus are at increased risk for experiencing serious illness due to higher rates of certain underlying health conditions compared to Whites, research has found.
Pressley points to data in her own Boston district that found Black and Latinx people represent 65 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up only about 44 percent of the city’s population. But the full extent of the nationwide problem isn’t known because the federal government doesn’t adequately collect race data, the lawmakers said.
“Many don’t equate racism with health care, but countless African Americans and people of color have lost their lives as a result of being denied quality health care,” Newport News Mayor McKinley L. Price, president of the African American Mayors Association, said in a statement. “We must address the systemic racism that’s rampant in our healthcare network, and collecting data on the problem is a good first step.”