Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked with the firm belief that access to affordable healthcare is a basic human right and an absolute necessity. While great strides have been made over the years, most notably through the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans continue to slip through the cracks.
Since I became chair of the Ways and Means Committee, we have fought to make healthcare more affordable and expand access to coverage, while President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have continued their crusade to weaken the system and to strip protections from those with preexisting conditions. Continuing to improve our healthcare system has always been an urgent and challenging undertaking, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing problems and also shone a harsh light on long-standing healthcare inequities in the U.S..
The past several months have been filled with devastation and despair, but they have also highlighted the resilience and strength of our healthcare workers, grocery store employees, postal workers and others in communities throughout the country. This time has also shown that we must demand better health outcomes through targeted investments and increased oversight of existing programs. Strengthening the system will save lives in this pandemic, in future crises and during more stable times. I’m proud of how the Ways and Means Committee acted swiftly and comprehensively to bolster our healthcare system in the face of COVID, but more steps must be taken beyond our emergency response legislation to ensure sustained improvements to U.S. healthcare.
From early on in this crisis, reports showed that health, economic and structural inequalities in our society led to astronomically higher death, infection and hospitalization rates in communities of color. In late May, the Ways and Means Committee convened a hearing during which experts resoundingly confirmed that Black and Indigenous people as well as other people of color are at much greater risk of COVID-19 because their health is adversely affected by discriminatory policies and structural racism. These biases endanger lives, and fixing these systemic problems must be a top priority for Congress. In July I issued a report, Left Out: Barriers to Health Equity for Rural and Underserved Communities, which provides extensive background on the issues impacting health equity in America, and discusses challenges associated with scalable and sustainable solutions to address health inequities and eliminate disparities.