In the first virtual hearing in the history of the House of Representatives, members of the House Ways and Means Committee, including Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) held a hearing to discuss racial health disparities and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.
During the hearing Higgins said, “The coronavirus and COVID-19 has revealed profound fragility in the American health care system. Health disparities generally, results in a lot of pre-existing conditions, with those pre-existing conditions, the most vulnerable to the worst and most lethal of COVID-19, are exposed.”
In New York State, Black New Yorkers make up 14 percent of the overall state population and account for 25 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. This crisis is exposing and exacerbating existing systemic racial health and economic inequities, including higher rates of pre-existing conditions, higher uninsured rates, and higher rates of poverty amongst communities of color that are all contributing to disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection and death.
Higgins’ line of questioning during the hearing centered around increasing minority participation in clinical trials, “How do we build trust and get greater minority participation in clinical trials not only for drugs that will emerge for the coronavirus moving forward to test both the safety and efficacy of drug development for COVID-19 but also a generally speaking?”
Higgins is also taking action to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color in Western New York:
- On May 19, Higgins spoke directly with U.S. Health Human Services Deputy Secretary Hargan about the need for direct federal relief funding to Erie County Medical Center and similar safety net providers who primarily serve medically underserved populations.
- Higgins’ letter to the Department of Health and Human Services advocating for a retail testing sites in Western New York resulted in two retail sites: at the Rite Aid location on Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls and Bailey Avenue in Buffalo’s 14215 hotspot.
- Congressman Higgins voted for emergency relief packages providing over $4 million in federal funding to help federally qualified health clinics expand testing to underserved communities through traditional clinic sites as well as mobile and satellite sites.
- In a letter to New York State Health Commissioner Zucker, Higgins requested more community-based tracking and testing efforts in the statewide response to COVID-19 to address health disparities in vulnerable populations.
Higgins believes Western New York can play and important role in this national discussion. Prior to the outbreak Congressman Higgins facilitated meeting in Washington, D.C. with the National Institutes of Health, the University at Buffalo, and the African-American Health Disparities Task Force to discuss ways to leverage local work on national efforts to decrease and eliminate health disparities.