News Release

Senators Announce Health Equity and Accountability Act to Create a More Equitable Health Care System

Legislation developed with Congressional Tri-Caucus support addresses national health disparities

October 7, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), along with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) today announced the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA)—sweeping legislation that would address health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities as well as between women, the LGBTQ+ community, rural populations, and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities across the United States. HEAA is a blueprint for bold policy solutions that uniquely target a wide spectrum of health equity concerns. The comprehensive legislation would: 

  • Expand access to health care including for immigrant and rural communities.
  • Improve care for underserved communities through enhanced language access services, provider training on cultural competency, and investments in diversifying the health workforce.
  • Dismantle barriers and fund programs to support mental, infant, maternal, sexual, and reproductive health for marginalized and underserved individuals and communities.
  • Increase federal resources to address diseases that disproportionately impact minority communities and engage the entire federal government in building and funding strategies to address social determinants of health.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated and laid bare health disparities in communities across the country, particularly in communities of color,” Sen. Hirono said. “Even before the pandemic, Pacific Islanders—including COFA citizens and Native Hawaiians—experienced poorer health outcomes, often due to systemic barriers in our health care system and society at large. HEAA dismantles these barriers to accessing information, health education, health services and coverage so that all communities in Hawaii and across the country can thrive.”

Sen. Hirono also introduced HEAA in 2018. This Congress, HEAA was introduced in the House by Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.) with support from the Congressional Tri-Caucus. HEAA has been introduced in every Congress since 2007. HEAA is endorsed by nearly 200 organizations, including UnidosUS, Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), Families USA, Community Catalyst, National Health Law Program (NHeLP), National Urban League, and AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families. The full list of endorsing organizations can be found here. Bill text can be found here.

“UnidosUS stands proudly with Senator Mazie Hirono, Representative Jesús ‘Chuy’ García, and the Congressional Tri-Caucus to introduce the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2020 (HEAA) in the Senate. At a time when Latinos, in particular Latino children, are disproportionately getting sick and dying from COVID-19, Congress must act quickly to enact policies like HEAA that address the alarming health disparities magnified by COVID-19 and strengthen the health care system so that it works for all. Congress can also look to HEAA for bold and innovative ideas that would provide immediate relief to hard-working Americans impacted by COVID-19, including Latinos, and ensure that everyone has access to COVID-testing, treatment, and care,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of UnidosUS.

“It’s not enough to just work for better health care for all—we also need to tackle the unacceptable disparities in health care that Black and Brown families, women, low-income families, rural communities, and LGBTQ+ Americans face every day,” said Sen. Merkley. “This legislation includes critical components of the roadmap we need to address those massive inequities, so we can finally ensure that every American’s human right to health care is met.”

“This bill is a bold blueprint for tackling the immense inequities in our health care system. Far too many Americans are unable to access quality health care because of the color of their skin, who they love, where they live, or how much money they have. The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully illuminated these disparities, taking a tragic toll on underserved communities. The Health Equity and Accountability Act broadens access to health care, improves language services and cultural trainings, and increases workforce diversity—necessary strides to make our country’s health care system more equitable for all,” Sen. Blumenthal said.

“We can do so much more to help underserved communities access comprehensive healthcare that is culturally-competent, equitable and affordable,” said Sen. Duckworth. “The Health Equity and Accountability Act will take an important step in addressing historic and systemic inequalities in our health system by prioritizing the unique medical needs and experiences of all Americans.”

“Whether someone lives or dies should never depend on factors like race, income, gender, or LGBTQ status. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to underscore the deep inequities in our health care system, I’m proud to cosponsor this bill to build a healthier, more equitable future,” Sen. Kaine said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has devastated historically underserved communities and underscored the importance of equal access to health care for all,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “Yet, for far too many Americans health care remains an unaffordable, inaccessible privilege. The Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) will make critical investments to address health disparities and help to ensure equitable access to affordable and quality health care—regardless of race, gender, zip code, or immigration status. I thank Senator Hirono for her leadership on this bill and in the fight for a more equitable health care system.”

“Even before COVID-19 killed over 200,000 Americans—disproportionately people of color—we were confronting serious and deadly disparities in health care access and outcomes,” said Sen. Booker. “As we work to get this virus under control, we must confront these inequities and ensure that all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, socioeconomic status, gender, or sexual orientation have access to quality, affordable health care.”

“Communities of color continue to be disproportionately devastated by COVID-19. Unless we take immediate steps to mitigate long standing racial disparities in our health care system, many more preventable deaths will ravage our most vulnerable communities,” said Rep. García. “The Health Equity and Accountability Act will save lives by improving data collection, access to safety net programs for immigrants, equitable federal resources for those in the U.S. territories and culturally and linguistically appropriate services. HEAA is built on our shared, fundamental belief that everyone deserves access to affordable, quality health care, especially during a deadly pandemic.”

“I want to thank CAPAC Senator Mazie Hirono for introducing the Health Equity and Accountability Act in the Senate. Over the past several months, we have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated longstanding health inequities and devastated communities of color across our nation. In fact, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders continue to have some of the highest COVID-19 infection and mortality rates out of any racial group in several states. New data also indicates that Asian Americans are likewise dying at a higher rate due to coronavirus, with deaths increasing by 35% this year compared with the average over the last five years. In order to fully recover from this pandemic, we must ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care that is culturally and linguistically competent. And we must prioritize disaggregating data and addressing health disparities like diabetes, hepatitis, and heart disease that disproportionately impact our communities. That’s exactly what HEAA does, and it’s why I’m so proud to join with my Tri-Caucus colleagues to support this critical piece of legislation,” CAPAC Chair Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed racial disparities in the social determinants of health like never before, with Latinos and other communities of color continuing to be disproportionately impacted by both the virus and its economic impacts. Even as we work to get our nation through this pandemic, we must also begin to address the long-standing inequities that have contributed to these unjust outcomes in the Latino community,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). “That is why the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is proud to support the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) which holistically addresses health and social inequities and promotes health equity. The CHC is grateful to Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii for leading the introduction of this timely legislation in the United States Senate and to CHC member Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04) for leading its introduction in the House. HEAA is a crucial and necessary step to ensure a crisis like the one we are experiencing now never happens again.”

“Healthcare disparities in our country have been a long-standing issue and concern for the Congressional Black Caucus. So much so, we have created a dedicated task force to not only identify the issues but develop targeted policy solutions to address the problems. This year, the spread of the coronavirus has only compounded these issues, leaving Black people even more vulnerable. The Health Equity and Accountability Act comes at a time when our nation must be proactive in addressing the inequalities of our health care system. The legislative response must be holistic and targeted to meet the needs of our communities and that is what this Act aims to do,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Background:
The Health Equity and Accountability Act is a visionary piece of legislation to reform our health system to ensure that historically marginalized communities and communities who face health disparities receive the health services they need to thrive. The provisions within this bill will close health disparities and improve health and wellbeing of communities across the United States.

The Health Equity and Accountability Act has been introduced in every Congress since 2007. This legislation reforms policies and expands federal health care resources for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as other underserved populations who face discrimination and barriers to care due to their immigration status, sex, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and English proficiency.

UnidosUS, previously known as NCLR (National Council of La Raza), is the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Through its unique combination of expert research, advocacy, programs, and an Affiliate Network of nearly 300 community-based organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico, UnidosUS simultaneously challenges the social, economic, and political barriers that affect Latinos at the national and local levels. For more than 50 years, UnidosUS has united communities and different groups seeking common ground through collaboration, and that share a desire to make our country stronger. For more information on UnidosUS, visit www.unidosus.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact:
Martha Spieker
202-365-7943