October 26, 2021

Schiff, Padilla Introduce Legislation to Make Access to Equitable Health Care a Protected Civil Right

Today, California Democrats Congressman Adam Schiff and Senator Alex Padilla introduced the Equal Health Care for All Act, bicameral legislation to address the racial inequities in America’s health care system by making equitable medical care a protected civil right.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the many inequities that plague our society and particularly health care system – and it’s exposed just how catastrophic those inequalities are for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities,” said Schiff. “Just as Congress has sought to eliminate racism in housing, employment, and education, we must act immediately to do the same for health care. The Equal Health Care for All Act will begin to do just that, by treating equitable health care as a civil right for the first time in our nation’s history. We’ve come a long way in the struggle to undo systemic racism, but our work is far from finished – and this bill is an essential first step.”

“For far too long, inequities in our health care system have led to disproportionately worse health outcomes for women and people of color, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Padilla. “Congress has a duty to act on these inequities and right the wrongs that have resulted in the lack of access to high quality health care for so many communities. The Equal Health Care for All Act will make this inequitable care a form of prohibited discrimination, treating equitable health care as a civil right to ensure that all people have access to the high quality, affordable health care they deserve. Addressing health inequity in our country is long overdue, and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

The Equal Health Care for All Act will establish a definition for inequitable health care to help ensure that hospitals provide the same high quality health care services to all patients, regardless of race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, or religion. It would also create an Office of Civil Rights and Health Equity within the Department of Health and Human Services, and a system for patients to file complaints that can be referred to the Department of Justice, a new Federal Health Equity Commission to track progress on reducing disparities, and require hospitals and health care providers to report demographic data so that the federal government can better track and address racial inequities.

The Equal Health Care for All Act aims to remedy structural and systemic failures in America’s health care system that have existed for centuries -- with the result being that Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous individuals are disproportionately more likely than white individuals to suffer from a range of illnesses, from asthma to heart disease. Black women are more likely than white women to die from breast cancer and during childbirth. Hispanic individuals suffer from higher rates of chronic diseases, including an 80% higher rate of diabetes. Discrimination against protected classes in medical care goes beyond race. A Center of American Progress report issued last year found 15 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents said they would endorse postponing or avoiding medical treatment due to fears of discrimination in health care. In that same report, one in three individuals self-identifying as transgender said they needed to educate their medical care providers to receive adequate care. 

The Equal Health Care for All Act is co-sponsored by Chairpersons Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.). It is also supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, the National Disability Rights Network, Families USA, and the American Diabetes Association.


To read the full bill, click here. To read the section-by-section, click here.