Durbin: If We Don't Address Racial Health Care Disparities, Shame On Us

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today spoke about the racial and ethnic disparities in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic and solutions for more equitable health care outcomes for communities of color.  In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin spoke about the systemic inequalities worsening this pandemic for communities of color in Illinois and urged his colleagues to finally step up and address these inequalities by improving access to health care for all Americans and reporting nationwide demographic data of cases and deaths related to COVID-19.

“Latino and black populations in Illinois and across the nation are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.  As we continue to hit new grim milestones during this public health crisis, these disparities are a sobering reminder of the historical inequities in our health care system in our country,” Durbin said. “If we don't learn from this crisis, the weaknesses of this great nation when it comes to health care, if we don't understand the inequities of this great nation when it comes to health care, and if we don't resolve to do something about it, shame on us. If at the end of this crisis we breathe a sigh of relief and say now we'll go back to business as usual, where health disparities are accepted in this country, shame on this Senate.”

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Over the past few weeks, Durbin has held calls with Illinois hospitals, community health centers and health care providers, and local leaders to hear how the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color throughout the state.

African Americans in Illinois make up less than 15 percent of the state’s overall population, but account for 34 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.  In Chicago, African American residents account for 52 percent of total COVID-19 deaths, despite comprising only 30 percent of the city’s population.  Recently, Latinos in Illinoisans, who make up 17 percent of the state’s population, surpassed African American Illinoisans in confirmed cases of COVID-19. Latino Illinoisans account for 23 percent of confirmed cases in Illinois—the most cases of any race or ethnicity.

Last week, Durbin joined Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) to announce the bicameral COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, legislation to bring together health care and other policy experts, community-based organizations, and federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial leaders to confront the racial and ethnic disparities of the coronavirus pandemic head on. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish an interagency task force of policy experts, community leaders, and government officials to make data-driven recommendations to federal agencies about directing crucial resources—like testing kits, testing supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE)—to communities with racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates.

In April, Durbin joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senate colleagues to introduce a bill to require the HHS to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates nationwide, and provide a summary of the final statistics and a report to Congress within 60 days after the end of the public health emergency. The Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act would require HHS to use all available surveillance systems to post daily updates publicly on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website showing data on testing, treatment, and fatalities, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status, disability status, county, and other demographic information.

In April, Durbin also led a letter with members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation to HHS Secretary Alex Azar urging him to take action to address the impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, starting with publicly reporting nationwide demographic data of cases and deaths on the CDC website.

In April, Durbin wrote a letter to the CDC urging Director Robert Redfield to support local efforts to bolster the community health workforce capacity as a way to help address racial and ethnic disparities as part of the COVID-19 response. Hiring community residents to help with contact tracing, education and outreach, and other preventative actions will help residents stay safe while considering appropriate cultural competency and social determinants of health.