We recommend the following urgent health and racial equity policy priorities to ensure that health care systems receive relief funding to support low-income families of color:
1. Require Health Centers to Provide Free COVID-19 Testing and Treatment for Low-Income Families:
We must incentivize seeking medical care and also ensure that low-income families already suffering from this financial crisis are not also burdened with excessive medical fees and debt. In an emergency, a patient may unknowingly be taken to a hospital that is outside of their medical network for treatment and get stuck with an expensive “surprise” bill not covered by insurance. For low-income and uninsured families, they may forgo going to a hospital altogether because they cannot afford to pay. Some private health insurance companies and state Medicaid programs are leading the effort to waive copays for COVID-19 testing, evaluation, and treatment. Now it is time for hospitals to step up and stop “surprise” medical billing to patients seeking care, regardless of their immigration status, insurance status, or ability to pay. We urge Congress to require that hospitals use stimulus funds to provide free testing and treatment for low income families and the uninsured to encourage more people to seek health care and stop the spread of the virus.
2. Require Health Centers to Collect & Report COVID-19 Demographic Data to State Public Health Departments:
Reports across the nation are showing that the spread of COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color. This stems from a number of systemic issues including lack of healthcare access, implicit bias of healthcare providers, and greater likelihood of exposure to the virus due to living conditions, unemployment, or “essential worker” status. Hospitals and medical centers need resources and funding to collect data on important demographic indicators like race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, zip code, and socioeconomic status and report them to their respective State Department of Public Health for transparency. Data transparency is an important accountability measure to ensure that resources, support, and relief get prioritized to the communities most disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
3. Require Health Centers to Screen and Provide Referrals for Domestic & Intimate Partner Violence:
The compounding impacts of rising unemployment, stress, and trauma from COVID-19 are contributing to an alarming increase in reported domestic violence incidents. While this impacts everyone, low-income women, LGBTQ, and gender expressive folks in particular can be more prone to experiencing this kind of abuse. Hospitals and medical centers must continue to prioritize screening for domestic and intimate partner violence. A group of senators recently called for increased funding to connect patients with essential counseling, therapy, and support services, and the next stimulus package must provide such support.
As the health and economic impacts of the pandemic unfold, we need Congress to prioritize supporting the most vulnerable now more than ever. Health systems need funding as well as guidance to ensure that low-income families are supported by emergency response and relief efforts. Congress must prioritize free COVID-19 testing and treatment for low-income families and the uninsured, demographic data collection and reporting, and resources and support for domestic and intimate partner violence in a new stimulus package.
Kelsey Lyles is Greenlining’s Health Equity Policy Lead. To receive updates on our ongoing response to the Coronavirus pandemic, sign up for The Greenlining Institute's newsletter.