AAFP Endorses Bill Addressing COVID-19 Health Disparities

Legislation Provides for Task Force Including Rural Medical Professionals

June 01, 2020 01:54 pm News Staff

The Academy has voiced strong support for new legislation meant to address health disparities associated with -- and often fatally complicated by -- SARS-CoV-2.

[young female physician talking with patient]

The COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Taskforce Act (H.R. 6763(www.congress.gov) and S. 3721)(www.congress.gov) would convene an interagency, multisector task force to examine these inequities as they intersect with the pandemic, and develop policy recommendations.

In a May 28 letter(1 page PDF) to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., who introduced the legislation in their respective chambers, the AAFP applauded that approach, noting high infection and mortality rates among some racial and ethnic populations.

Any coordinated effort to fully address the pandemic "would be incomplete without strategies to reduce health disparities," said the letter, signed by Board Chair John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska.

The task force created by this legislation would comprise medical professionals (including those from rural areas), people from community organizations and policy experts. It would issue reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Congress.

As outlined in the bill, the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force would, among other mandates:

  • provide weekly resource allocation recommendations to FEMA and Congress, taking into account data on patient outcomes;
  • identify communities with high levels of racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates;
  • advise FEMA on the allocation of personal protective equipment, ventilators, testing kits, testing supplies, vaccinations (when available), staffing and funding to those communities; and
  • deliver oversight and recommendations to federal agencies on disbursing COVID-19 relief funds with racial and ethnic disparities in mind.

The task force also would write guidance on combating racial and ethnic disparities in future responses to infectious disease and establish a permanent Infectious Disease Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force.

The Academy's approval of the legislation is in line with recent advocacy also centered on vulnerable patient populations that are at higher risk for infection.(www.kff.org)

In April, the AAFP and other medical organizations urged HHS to ensure robust data collection and reporting on COVID-19 patients, particularly those of color. The agency, said that correspondence, should "collect, analyze and make available to the public explicit, comprehensive, standardized data on race, ethnicity and patients' preferred spoken and written language related to the testing status, hospitalization and mortality" associated with COVID-19.

Commenting on that call to action, Danielle Jones, M.P.H., director of the Academy's Center for Diversity and Health Equity, told AAFP News last month that the pandemic had "exposed the deeply rooted social, economic and health inequities that create racial and ethnic disparities in the United States."

In its May 28 letter, the Academy said, "The current public health emergency may impose indelible, long-term harms on those who have been historically disadvantaged." Given the complicating impact of social determinants of health on COVID-19 outcomes, the letter added, "it will be essential to develop recommendations that contextualize why disparities exist."

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Lends Expertise on Social Determinants to Inform HHS
(11/20/2018)

More From AAFP
EveryONE Project Strategic Priorities

Advancing Health Equity by Addressing the Social Determinants of Health in Family Medicine (Position Paper)