Frankel: Legislature must take action to address health inequalities during pandemic

Disparity report suggests numerous concrete actions legislature can adopt

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 13 – State Rep. Dan Frankel, Democratic chair of the Health Committee, is urging the legislature to take action in the wake of a state report on how the pandemic is affecting the state’s minority and vulnerable populations, and what actions the state can take to address some of the identified shortcomings. The report – which can be read here -- is the product of Gov. Tom Wolf’s taskforce on health disparities during the COVID-19 crisis, which was formed in April.

“The coronavirus crisis has brought to the fore many of the inequities of our society, inequalities that many of us have fought against for decades, but which those in power chose to minimalize. As the Black Lives Matter movement has shown us, the people of our commonwealth want us to do better, expect us to do better,” Frankel said. “Our disadvantaged communities – whether because of race, identity or sexuality, have once again borne the brunt of a crisis, and have, in many cases, been asked to jeopardize their health for the greater good even as their access to vital resources are obstructed. We must do better.

“Last month I cochaired with Legislative Black Caucus Chair Stephen Kinsey and Welcoming Caucus Chair Joe Hohenstein a policy hearing on health disparities during this pandemic. We heard from some of the same experts who worked with this excellent taskforce, who explained that communities of color are more likely to be infected, more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to die from this virus. Further, the economic effects of Covid-19, which have caused suffering across our entire commonwealth, are setting these communities back even further.

“Systemic racism set the stage for the disparate effects of this crisis, but we have in this report a place to start in ensuring that all communities have the ability to get through it as safely as possible.”

Among the healthcare-related recommendations, the report suggested the commonwealth:

  • Continue the Alternative Payment Arrangement that helped to finance the gap when individuals were unable to access services until service-access fluctuations subside.
  • Expand critical-care infrastructure and capacity.
  • Re-examine reimbursement rates to mental health providers (specifically outpatient clinics and in-school services) and general healthcare providers for possible increases.
  • Distribute free PPE and testing equipment to community-based health providers.
  • Increase funding to community-based organizations with connections in immigrant communities and language abilities to better connect immigrants to health care service providers.

“Today’s report has provided numerous concrete actions we can take to address some of the disparities that exist in our current healthcare system,” Frankel said. “Many of these proposals are already languishing, as Republicans prioritize efforts to roll back state protections over helping all Pennsylvanians get through this crisis as safely as possible. However, I hope that this report will encourage bipartisan action and as the minority chair of the House Health Committee, I stand ready to work with my colleagues to move these ideas forward.”

The report includes the critical need for inclusive antidiscrimination and hate crimes legislation, both of which were introduced by Frankel last year.