The House Education and Labor Committee convened a hearing to discuss how Congress can address racial inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 in education, health, and the workforce. Overall, Democrats urged Republicans to support the House-passed Heroes Act (H.R. 6800; WHG summary), while Republicans pushed for states to continue to reopen their economies to help address racial disparities.
The hearing featured testimony from:
- Dr. Camara P. Jones, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, Senior Fellow and Adjunct Associate Professor, Morehouse School of Medicine, Past President, American Public Health Association (testimony);
- Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson, Ph.D., Director, Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy Economic Policy Institute (testimony);
- Mr. Avik Roy, Co-Founder and President, The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (testimony); and
- Mr. John B. King, Jr., President and CEO, The Education Trust (testimony).
In his opening statement, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) discussed racial inequities that contribute to disparities in COVID-19 death rates among communities of color. They include health care discrimination, housing instability, food insecurity, and limited access to transportation. Chairman Scott highlighted provisions in the Heroes Act that would address racial inequalities. They include expanding coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment, fully subsidizing COBRA premiums, and providing $75 billion for testing and contact tracing. Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) expressed her opposition to the Heroes Act. She called on Congress to focus its efforts on supporting states reopen their economies.
Highlights from the Q&A:
Throughout the hearing, Democratic Committee Members pushed for Republicans to support the Heroes Act, which passed the House along party lines. Republican Committee Members repeatedly pointed to the closure of economies (intended to slow down the spread of COVID-19), rather than systemic racism, as the main contributor to racial health disparities in COVID-19 deaths. Additional highlights follow:
- In response to Rep. Joe Courtney’s (D-CT) description of the benefits of the 100 percent COBRA subsidy included in the Heroes Act, Mr. Roy said Congress should provide reinsurance funding to help reduce reliance on employer-sponsored insurance and increase participation in the individual health insurance market.
- Of note, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 1425) would establish the Improve Health Insurance Affordability Fund to provide funding to states to provide reinsurance payments to certain health insurance issuers and to provide assistance to individuals enrolled in qualified health plans (QHPs) by reducing out-of-pocket costs (e.g., co-payments, coinsurance, premiums and deductibles). The House is expected to consider H.R. 1425 this month.
- Following a discussion with Dr. Wilson on the downsides of employer-sponsored health insurance, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) highlighted her bill, the Medicare Crisis Program Act (H.R. 6674). This bill would:
- Extend Medicare coverage to recently unemployment individuals (and other members of their household) and coverage would take effect on the date of unemployment. Premiums and out-of-pocket costs would be limited to 5 percent of monthly income for all new and existing Medicare enrollees;
- Increase the federal income eligibility threshold for Medicaid to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, pay 100 percent of the cost for newly eligible enrollees, and enhance federal funding to states for existing Medicaid enrollees;
- Require Medicare, Medicaid and all other public and private health insurers to cover all costs of COVID-19-related care (including for a patient who seeks care due to COVID-19 symptoms but ultimately tests negative); and
- Prohibit health care providers from billing uninsured individuals for COVID-19-related care.
Health Care Providers
- Several Republicans engaged Mr. Roy in a discussion on the high COVID-19 fatality rate in nursing homes, likely prompted by his written testimony. His testimony included analysis finding “no correlation [at the state-level] between African-American race and mortality in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.” Mr. Roy explained that the policy implemented by “some state governors to force nursing homes to accept COVID-infected patients who had been discharged from a hospital, including New York, New Jersey, and Michigan” compounded the spread of COVID-19 in long-term facilities.
- In a discussion with Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) on the importance of increasing diversity in medicine and public health, Dr. Jones recommended expanding the National Health Service Corps.
- In response to question from Rep. Lucy McBeth (D-GA) on why “race-neutral policies” fail, Dr. Wilson explained that race-neutral policies ignore “systems and structures in place that are not race-neutral,” which result in disparate impacts on communities of color, especially within the context of COVID-19.
- Chairman Scott asked which initiatives – unemployment assistance, food assistance, payroll tax cut, or capital gains tax holiday – would give “the most bang for the buck.” Dr. Wilson explained that $1 spent in food assistance would generate $1.67 in gross domestic product (GDP) a year from now. Similarly, $1 spent on unemployment insurance benefits would generate $1.46 in GDP a year from now. Dr. Wilson noted that a payroll tax cut and capital gains tax holiday typically have a “bang for buck under $1.”