February 24, 2021

At Senate Finance Committee Hearing, HHS Secretary Nominee Xavier Becerra Commits to Improving Health Equity Data in COVID Vaccine Distribution and Across Our Health Systems

Video of Hearing Exchange (Youtube)

Washington, DC - In a Senate Finance Committee hearing today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Xavier Becerra, the nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), on his commitment to address structural racism in our health systems and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorney General Becerra committed to improve data collection for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and to help address health inequities in the treatment of chronic conditions, infant and maternal mortality, addiction, and police brutality. 

Transcript: Finance Committee Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Attorney General Xavier Becerra
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

So, early in the pandemic, Representative Ayanna Pressley and I-along with many of our colleagues-pushed the Trump administration to collect and to publicly release demographic information on who was getting tested for COVID-19 and who was getting infected.

Without this information, there would be no way to know if Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities had the same access to tests as white communities, and it would be impossible for the federal government to allocate resources equitably. Put plainly: you can't fix what you can't see.

Now, we kept pushing and mandated this data collection in one of the COVID relief packages. And now we've begun to get a fuller picture. We know that Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are nearly two times as likely to contract COVID-19, roughly 4 times more likely to be hospitalized when they get sick, and more than twice as likely to die.

Those data are critical to setting policies to combat racial inequality. But today, almost a year into the pandemic, nearly half of all testing data collected by the CDC still does not have associated race or ethnicity information. As HHS Secretary, will you commit to prioritizing, collecting, and reporting these critical data so that we get a fuller picture of how the virus is affecting all Americans?  

Attorney General Xavier Becerra: Senator, first, thank you for making that effort to secure that information. I can make the commitment to you now that I will work with you to make sure we have all of that type of information. We need that information to do a good job. 

Senator Warren: Good. I'm glad to hear you say that. Now on the vaccine front - we have administered over 64 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but the CDC has race and ethnicity information for just over half of those vaccines. So, if confirmed, will you also commit to improving the collection and publishing of the data on vaccines?

Attorney General Becerra: I commit to work with you to make that happen.

Senator Warren: That's terrific. You know, there's more, though. Racial equity should be a part of every public health issue that you approach as HHS Secretary - chronic conditions, infant and maternal mortality, addiction, police brutality.

Racial health disparities aren't coincidences or aberrations in the data. They result from structural racism, and it's time to start treating structural racism like any other public health problem: investing in research into its symptoms and its causes, and finding ways to mitigate its effects.

So, let me ask you the third in this series. Will you commit to collecting the data we need to see the racial disparities in our health care system and to attacking those disparities head on?

Attorney General Becerra: Senator, I'm looking forward to working on that with you because it's time.

Senator Warren: Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to working with you, and I'm going to support this nomination all the way.

Attorney General Becerra: Thank you.

Senator Warren: Thank you.