Key Lawmakers & Thought Leaders Addressing Racial Health Inequities on Multiple Fronts

Key Lawmakers & Thought Leaders Addressing Racial Health Inequities on Multiple Fronts

February 17, 2022

The racial inequities that have long been part of our healthcare system persist even today. At the same time, as we mark Black History Month, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate recent progress on this front.

Two recent phenomena brought much more visibility to anti-Black racism in America. The first was the Covid-19 pandemic, which in its early days, sickened and killed Black people at higher rates than their white counterparts, largely due to underlying health conditions that were themselves the result of discrimination. The second was the Black Lives Matter movement, which focused the nation’s attention on the higher rates of police violence faced by Blacks. In both cases, the underlying facts are tragic and deep-rooted. But these events also galvanized many Americans to take notice and act, and we’re starting to see results in health care.

Key policymakers in Congress have proposed important legislation to elevate health equity issues at the federal level. For instance, the Allied Workforce Diversity Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), would provide grants to educational institutions to increase diversity among students training for a range of healthcare professions, including physical therapy, respiratory therapy, and speech pathology. This would help build a healthcare workforce more reflective of all Americans.

Similarly, the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), would provide Medicare payments to pharmacists who perform certain duties normally covered by doctors. This would help millions of Americans living in areas without enough physicians — who are disproportionately Black and Brown.

Meanwhile, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the first Black woman to lead the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is overseeing the agency’s efforts to advance equity and address health disparities.

There is, to be sure, vastly more work to be done. Last year, cardiologist Raymond Givens revealed that of 100 editors at the country’s two most influential medical journals, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) just three were Black. After Givens published his findings, the NEJM editorial board hired its first Black deputy editor, as well as four other people of color.

None of these measures will entirely fix a problem that has become entrenched over centuries. They are, nevertheless, smart, tangible ways to make our healthcare system more equitable, and should give members of the Black community some optimism about the future of health care.