Exciting Progress for Health Care Equality!

October 21, 2011

A mother holds her infant during a check-up at a clinic for low-income families. ©John Moore/Getty Images

As Amnesty International’s recent reports on maternal health  have highlighted, discrimination in health care in the United States is severe and pervasive. But recently introduced legislation would help end discrimination and improve the quality of health care in the United States.

Last month, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from California introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2011 (HEAA).  Passing this legislation will help eliminate disparities in access to health care and in health outcomes for communities of color. The HEAA ensures that a full range of culturally appropriate public health services are available and accessible to communities of color, and that services are available in the languages used by those communities.  The bill also provides training opportunities for health care workers to better address particular health issues facing marginalized communities.

We are also excited to report that another key Amnesty legislative priority, the Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011, has been included in the HEAA! As a result, if the HEAA is passed, it would ensure that states have the resources to establish maternal mortality review boards to examine and address the root causes of maternal deaths and to specifically address maternal health disparities.

Why is the issue of health care disparities so pressing?  Because these disparities, manifestations of entrenched, unaddressed discrimination, result in needless deaths every day.

Consider the following facts from Deadly Delivery:

  • African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. These disparities remain even when income, age and other factors are accounted for.
  • Women with no prenatal care are three to four times more likely to die, yet American Indian women are 3 ½ times and African American and Latina women are 2 ½ times more likely to receive late or no prenatal care than white women.
  • Maternal mortality ratios for American Indian and Alaska Native women were 4 times higher than the US goal of 4.3 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  affirms that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health of himself and of his family, including . . . medical care and necessary social services.”  But in the United States that right is far from realized. The United States is now ranked 50th in maternal mortality, behind nearly all European countries.  Even though the US spends more than any other nation on health care, the country reports some of the worst health outcomes of any wealthy nation.

Now is the time to raise your voice in support of equal access to health care!  This bill is an important step in ensuring that health care in the United States meets human rights principles. Tell your Member of Congress to support the Health Equity and Accountability Act.  Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative (if you don’t know who your Representative is, click  here  to find out.)