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March 26, 2021

HELP Committee hearing on improving health equity and outcomes by addressing health disparities

On March 25, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) held a hearing entitled, "Examining Out COVID-19 Response: Improving Health Equity and Outcomes by Addressing Health Disparities." Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) opened the hearing by saying that while "the pandemic has put a harsh spotlight on inequities in health care," this has long been a problem and "comprehensive action is well overdue." Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) echoed these sentiments and agreed that the pandemic has "revealed cracks in our health care system" and that we must "redouble our work to address the underlying problems facing these and other affected populations." The expert panel highlighted ongoing challenges with health equity both in the face of the pandemic and as a systemic issue across our health care infrastructure.

In the context of COVID-19, the panel discussed how minority communities are disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and how we must not mistake a lack of access to care or information as vaccine hesitancy, instead thoughtfully addressing community-specific barriers including transportation, broadband availability, paid leave, and other socioeconomic factors. Dr. Consuelo Wilkins, Vice President for Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said you need to get the vaccine to people where they "live, work, play and pray." The panel also noted the need for systemic changes including prioritizing health equity and allocating resources accordingly while building out public health data systems to ensure race, ethnicity, and language data are collected in more detail. Gene Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health, also noted the huge increase in telehealth — from 1,300 to 130,000 visits a month during the height of the pandemic, saying you that you "can't put the genie back in the bottle," but that we need to ensure broadband access for rural communities. Committee members and panelists also discussed their concerns about the lack of prioritization and supports in place for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, the impact of the coronavirus on preventative care visits and maternal and infant health, as well as issues such as long-covid and mental health impacts of the pandemic lasting long beyond the emergency period.

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HELP health equity