WASHINGTON – Today, in recognition of Black History Month, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05) and Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) led the introduction of a House Resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. Congressional Black Caucus member Congresswoman Hayes, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Congressman Cárdenas, have championed the legislation since 2020. Inspired by the overwhelming evidence of the intersection of racism and discrimination within the health care system, this resolution aims to highlight the detrimental effects communities of color face when seeking treatment. Disproportionate access to and quality of care has resulted in shorter life expectancy, worsened health outcomes, and enhanced exposure to harmful or dangerous environments for Black and Brown Americans. Further, this resolution encourages concrete action to address gaps in health care and inequity across societal sectors. In 2021, Connecticut passed similar legislation, which created a new commission charged with documenting the effect of racism on public health across the state.

“Racial disparities have led to dangerous lapses in our health care system, compromising the safety and wellness of communities of color. These deeply-rooted inequities were magnified during the global pandemic resulting in a disproportionate impact among racial and ethnic minorities. As our nation continues to heal from COVID-19, the only path forward is one in which we finally acknowledge system failures for Black and Brown Americans,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “We can no longer ignore how profoundly embedded these disparities are. Congress must address the barriers created by overt racism or unconscious bias in our health care system and actively work to dismantle these injustices. Declaring racism a public health crisis is a step towards delivering a more equitable and healthier future for all.”

“Systemic racism affects every part of American life — including health care,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “People of color are more likely to endure chronic health conditions, die during pregnancy and face barriers to accessing quality care, and that’s just to name a few disparities. We saw the evidence even more blatantly during the COVID-19 public health emergency, with people of color disproportionately suffering. This is a national public health crisis, and I’m proud to join Rep. Hayes to declare it as such.”

Across the country, the average life expectancy of Black Americans is four years lower than the rest of the U.S. population, and Black women are up to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. Minority groups suffer disproportionately from asthma, have the highest number of emergency room visits and hospital stays due to asthma, and have higher mortality rates than their white counterparts. Comparatively, Hispanics are 40 percent more likely to die from diabetes, Black Americans are twice as likely, and American Indians/Alaska Natives are almost twice as likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts. 

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this disparity. Overall, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States have had higher infection rates, hospital stays, and death caused by the COVID-19 virus than whites, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).