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Senator Hassan Addresses Health Disparities for Individuals with Disabilities and People of Color During Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON – During a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) highlighted the challenges that individuals with disabilities face in accessing COVID-19 vaccinations, as well the disparity that people of color in rural areas face in accessing primary care, which is a particular concern amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


To watch the Senator’s questioning, click ­here.


Earlier this month I wrote to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services pushing for improvements in vaccine access for individuals with disabilities,” Senator Hassan said. “I was pleased to receive a response that highlighted plans to investigate claims of discrimination, and provide technical assistance to states and individual vaccination sites.”


Senator Hassan asked what further steps the federal government could take in order to ensure that vaccination sites and vaccine registration portals are accessible for individuals with disabilities.


Taryn Mackenzie Williams, Managing Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, responded that there are disability-focused organizations that are equipped to provide equitable access to individuals with disabilities, and urged Congress to provide more federal support to these agencies.


“As we think about future responses, I would ask that you all consider including additional support… to ensure that these entities that exist across our nation in support of people with disabilities, that they can continue to serve them at this moment of crisis,” said Williams.


Senator Hassan also highlighted the importance of access to health care for people of color in rural areas: “We have to do more to ensure that people of color have access to primary care, which is obviously important during this pandemic, but it’s also necessary for preventive screenings and early diagnosis of many life-threatening medical conditions.”


In response, Dr. Consuelo H. Wilkins, Vice President for Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, noted that there are not enough primary care providers, and suggested strengthening the ability of nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants to provide preventative care, as well as addressing the different barriers to telehealth to help expand access to health care for people of color in rural areas. Dr. Wilkins also discussed the importance of working with community health workers to help reach communities of color, which is a priority that Senator Hassan pushed for last year following a discussion she held with a group of predominately Black and Latina public health leaders in New Hampshire.