Hoyer, Brown, Sewell, Kuster, Blunt Rochester, and Kelly Introduce Legislation to Address Stark Disparities in Health Care System

WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), Congressman Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07), Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL), and Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL-02) introduced the Health Enterprise Zones Act to close the gaps in our health care system that have left behind minorities and underserved communities. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare disparities in our health care system along racial and geographic lines. The bill creates incentives to attract health care practitioners to work in health-disadvantaged communities.

Nationwide protests against racial injustice have highlighted long standing disparities in criminal justice, economic opportunity, housing, education, and our health care system. Data consistently shows COVID-19 disproportionately impacting communities of color. Unfortunately, this reality is not surprising. People of color are more likely to be uninsured and are at a higher risk of asthma, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. 

In 2017, African Americans were 20 percent more likely to die from heart disease than and have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate compared to non-Hispanic whites. Decades of implicit racial bias and systemic issues embedded in our health care system have put communities of color around the country at a default disadvantage.

Increasing services available to low-income communities, reducing the number of hospital visits, and lowering health care costs for individuals and health care providers are connected with better health outcomes for those that have been neglected for generations.

“With its disproportionate impact on people of color, the coronavirus pandemic has raised awareness of long-standing health disparities among African Americans and other minority communities in Maryland. These health disparities have been made worse by our nation’s criminal justice, education, housing, and employment policies, among other areas of public policy,” said Congressman Hoyer. “The Health Enterprise Zones Act would incentivize health care providers to ensure our communities receive the care they deserve and take steps to address racial disparities that plague our communities. I applaud Congressman Brown for introducing this critically important legislation, and I look forward to working with him to pass this long-needed bill.”

“For far too long, communities of color and underserved populations have faced unacceptable barriers in our health care system. From access, to  diagnosis, treatment and ultimate medical outcomes - these disparities have resulted in preventable deaths and hardship for families. That status quo is unacceptable,” said Congressman Brown. “We need long term solutions to address the inequities that have plagued our society for far too long. This legislation will begin to right those and work toward providing the quality, affordable health care that all Americans deserve.”

In 2013, a similar initiative was launched in Maryland. Participating communities saw a decrease of more than 18,000 inpatient stays by 2016. This reduction in hospital admissions yielded a net health savings of over $108 million, far outweighing the $15 million it cost to implement the program.

“The COVID-19 crisis has called additional attention to the systemic inequities in our health care system that result in greater health disparities, worse health outcomes and shorter lifespans,” said Congresswoman Sewell. “The Health Enterprise Zones Act would provide incentives, including tax credits, federal grants, student loan repayment and increased Medicare reimbursements, for health care providers to increase much-needed investment in underserved communities.”

“The COVID-19 public health crisis has shined a light on disparities in our nation’s health care system that have been negatively impacting communities of color and underserved populations for far too long,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “We must work to close gaps in medical care and ensure that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable care. I’m proud to help introduce this legislation — an important step toward creating a more just health system and addressing long-standing health inequalities in the United States.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, many of the underlying disparities and inequities that have long existed in our society have been illuminated. One of the most stark and consequential of those disparities is access to affordable and reliable health care,” said Congresswoman Blunt Rochester, a member of the Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee. “Tackling the persistent health inequities in communities of color requires innovative solutions that not only improve health outcomes but reduce health care costs. This legislation will bring critical physicians to medically underserved areas in Delaware and help us improve the health of communities across the state. I’m proud to join my colleagues and commend my friend, Congressman Brown for his leadership in introducing the Health Opportunity Zones Act. This legislation will help close those gaps in care and further our goal of building healthier communities.” 

Incentives included in this legislation for health care practitioners include tax credits for the employer and employee, student loan repayment, federal grants, and a 10 percent bonus on Medicare reimbursements.

“This legislation builds on a successful model in Maryland that invests creatively in communities for improved health at lower cost. COVID-19 has exposed the consequences of poor access to health care,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Now more than ever, health enterprise zones are urgently needed.”

The following organizations have endorsed the Health Enterprise Zones Act: Families USA, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, American Heart Association, CLASP, the National Association of Rural Health Clinics, the American Public Health Association, and CASA.

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