The HHS Secretary and the President both issued statements pledging to do more for communities of color.
“Of all the forms of inequality,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”
It’s a notion not going unrecognized during Black History Month, which U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra described in a recent statement as a “time to recognize the extraordinary contributions of Black Americans in every corner of our society – from poets and artists, to educators and entrepreneurs, to scientists and doctors, to the frontline workers and researchers protecting us during this pandemic.”
“It is also a time to recommit ourselves to racial equity and justice,” he added. “At HHS, we are tackling health disparities and keeping equity at the core of everything we do, which means improving health outcomes for Black Americans and other communities.”
Specifically, Becerra pointed to billions of dollars in investment in COVID-19 vaccination and testing, outreach and education initiatives, and what he called “unprecedented” steps to improve Black maternal health via new policies and funding.
“In addition, we have made healthcare more affordable and accessible for Black families across the country. During the 2021 Special Enrollment Period, more than 2.8 million Americans signed up for new health insurance, and among those who reported their race, 15 percent of the enrollees were Black, up from 9 percent in 2019,” Becerra said. “And thanks to the Administration’s American Rescue Plan, many saw their health insurance premiums lowered or eliminated during the 2022 Open Enrollment Period, where four out of five consumers could find a plan for $10 or less per month with this newly expanded financial assistance.”
Becerra added that the federal government as currently constituted is historically diverse, with Black leaders including Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Assistant Secretary Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Assistant Secretary Loyce Pace of the Office of Global Affairs, Assistant Secretary Cheryl Campbell at the Office of Administration, and Director Marvin Figueroa at the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs.
“They are not only respected leaders in their fields, but also role models for us all,” Becerra said. “I am fortunate to work alongside such top-notch professionals at HHS, where we are 90,000-strong, with a permanent workforce of 80,000 that is 21 percent Black. That is worth celebrating.”
President Biden also issued a statement marking Black History Month, and he too described both healthcare and fiscal health as key issues for the nation’s Black community.
“My Administration has worked hard to reverse decades of underinvestment in Black communities, schools, and businesses. Both the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are making historic investments in Black America – from vaccine shots in arms to checks in families’ pockets and tax cuts for working families with children to a landmark $5.8 billion investment in and support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Biden said. “And in my first year in office, the American Rescue Plan provided the full Child Tax Credit to the lower-income families of more than 26 million children — who are disproportionately Black — and put us on a path to cut Black child poverty in half.
Biden’s statement opened with strong words about systemic racism and its impact on the nation’s past and present.
“Our Nation was founded on an idea: that all of us are created equal and deserve to be treated with equal dignity throughout our lives. It is a promise we have never fully lived up to but one that we have never, ever walked away from,” he said. “The long shadows of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining – and the blight of systemic racism that still diminishes our Nation today – hold America back from reaching our full promise and potential. But by facing those tragedies openly and honestly and working together as one people to deliver on America’s promise of equity and dignity for all, we become a stronger Nation – a more perfect version of ourselves.”