Rev. Sharpton’s Letter to Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman on Prioritizing Black Health Equity in 2021

Nov 11, 2020

October 30, 2020

Dear Chairwoman Bass, Congresswoman Kelly, and Congressman Butterfield,

In the aftermath of decades of tragedy and pain, the country is finally paying attention to the plight of Black Americans. The consequences of systemic inequality, which have long been painfully clear to our communities, are becoming apparent to the larger population. Police brutality, overcriminalization, unfair labor practices, educational disparities, and the lack of access to quality healthcare are now front and center in our national political conversation.

Much of this is due to the leadership and tireless work of the Congressional Black Caucus. I am grateful for your leadership and tenacity in advocating for a more equitable and fairer society. It is crucial that we continue our fight after the 2020 election, passing tangible legislation that eliminates these disparities that exist in America.

One of the most crucial policy areas will be healthcare. Only when our nation’s most vulnerable receive the same treatment at the same cost and with the same efficiency as the rest of the country will the American idea be true for all.

This past February, I hosted an event in Charleston, South Carolina, just before the state’s primary. At the event, I spoke with leaders in the South Carolina and minority communities to promote the awareness of the glaring healthcare disparities that exist in our community. After the event, we heard promises from then-front runner Vice President Biden, on his proposed agenda to abolish surprise medical billing and provide more access to healthcare in urban and rural areas.

My mission started then, but it has only grown stronger. Black Americans have long been plagued with healthcare disparities that can mean the difference between life or death. There is no shortage of staggering statistics. Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. Black Americans are much more likely to have their insurer deny coverage for their care and be hit with surprise bills that cripple them financially. And now in the face of a pandemic, we are being hospitalized and dying at higher rates; with U.S.

counties that

are predominately Black being three times more likely to die of the COVID-19 than

predominately white counties.

While there has been much partisan back and forth on these issues in Washington, there has not been enough conversation about reining in the profits and excesses of health insurance companies, which refuse to cover critical procedures, medicines and services in order to preserve their billions of dollars in profits.

These insurers maintain narrow insurance networks that cover less and less as the years go by. For example, they were successful in rolling back key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The result, at best, is Americans in underserved areas – predominantly urban and rural – traveling long distances for routine care. At worst, it leaves vulnerable people with surprise medical bills they are unable to pay, sometimes leaving them homeless and destitute.

What is less understood is the impact of insurers’ profit obsession on Black communities. If insurance companies used some of their record profits to include low-income neighborhoods in their coverage networks, those hospitals and doctors’ offices in Black communities will stay open. This will not only provide accessible healthcare to Black Americans, but also ensure jobs and economic activity in these communities.

Unfortunately, this stable source of investment into both health and economic activity has steadily fled Black neighborhoods over the past few decades. I want to work with you and the CBC to bring those dollars and that coverage back to our communities.

In 2021, whoever the President of the United States is, I implore you to work with him to end insurer greed. Big insurance must stand by the plans our community and Black patients have both fought and paid for year in and year out. Big insurance must stop threatening us with increased premiums each and every time we identify a disparity that needs to be addressed. Big insurance cannot be allowed to advance a surprise medical billing “fix” in Congress that leaves our patients and providers on the hook once again. Record profits and cash windfalls from Washington must be a thing of the past.

The results of the CBC’s work on healthcare inequality are easy to see, but the fight cannot end here. It is imperative that the rest of the Democratic Party and the political establishment as a whole follow the CBC’S lead and put forward thoughtful legislation that will stop insurance companies from taking advantage of us once and for all.

Let us make 2021 the year of Black health equity.

Cc: Honorable G.K. Butterfield

Reverend Al Sharpton