After a smallpox epidemic raged throughout formerly enslaved Black communities in the post-Civil War South, Congress established the medical division of the Freedmen’s Bureau—the nation’s first federal health care program—to address the public health crisis. But this inaugural program was doomed to fail. Despite a population of 4 million formerly enslaved people throughout the country, program officials sent only about 120 doctors to serve Black communities in the South, ignored the doctors’ requests for personnel and equipment, and prematurely closed the over 40 hospitals they built. 

Unfortunately, the story of systemic injustices Black communities face persists. After decades of intentional segregation and discriminatory lending practices redlined residential neighborhoods, Black Americans still live under the most segregated conditions; segregated housing is associated with significantly higher incidences of cardiovascular disease. Black families are much more likely to live with polluted air and in neighborhoods close to Superfund toxic waste sites. And Black infant mortality has been at least 2.5 times greater than white infant mortality ever since we have recorded this data. 

There are no excuses for these staggering disparities. We must treat health care—high-quality, affordable health care—as a right for all, not a privilege only for those who can afford it. We must, too, finally treat access to clean air and drinking water as a fundamental right.

As President, Kamala will fight for health justice for Black communities across the country. She’ll fight to end the Black maternal mortality crisis, pass Medicare for All, and radically combat climate change so that families now, and for generations to come, can thrive. 

HOW SHE’LL DO IT

Pass Medicare for All and provide affordable health care.

  • Medicare for All is not just about health care. It’s also about racial justice. People of color makeup roughly 40% of the nonelderly U.S. population yet account for over half of the total uninsured population. Medical debt remains a glaring issue disproportionately impacting Black Americans, and Black and low-income women are more likely than others to be treated at under-resourced hospitals.
    We have to make sure that, as we make comprehensive healthcare available to everyone, we reduce racial disparities in the healthcare system. Kamala will fight for the health and economic security of patients and solve for the affordability and accessibility issues that disparately impact people of color. Her Medicare for All plan will cover all medically necessary services —including emergency room visits, doctor visits, prescription drugs, vision, dental, hearing aids, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and comprehensive reproductive health care services—with no deductibles and no copays.
  • Affordable health care also means lowering the cost of prescription drugs by taking on pharmaceutical manufacturers and private insurance companies. Kamala has taken on big corporations to fight for consumers throughout her career. As Attorney General, she won a more than $320 million settlement from insurance companies that defrauded elderly Californians and people with disabilities. As president, she will continue the fight.
    • Kamala will prosecute opioid makers profiting from the health crisis they’ve helped cause and allow her Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for cheaper prescription prices.
    • She’ll also shut the revolving door between pharmaceutical companies and our government. Kamala will require pharmaceutical companies to set a fair price for what they can charge for prescription drugs, which can be no higher than the price in comparable countries like Canada. To make sure the companies comply, she’ll set a 100 percent tax rate for all profits pharmaceutical companies make from selling a drug above the fair price in the United States, and pass the funds directly back to consumers in the form of rebates.

Combat the Black maternal mortality crisis.

  • The United States is one of only thirteen countries where the rate of maternal mortality is worse now than it was 25 years ago. Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy. Black women are also twice as likely to suffer from life-threatening pregnancy complications. Kamala knows that persistent biases in our health care system have perpetuated this health crisis. That’s why she will fight to pass her maternal mortality bill so Black women are taken seriously at the doctor, clinic, or hospital.
    • Kamala will establish training for health care providers and programs on implicit bias (bias in judgment or behavior resulting from implicit attitudes and stereotypes) to deliver Black women the culturally competent care and resources they need.
    • Kamala will also help states implement pregnancy medical home (PMH) projects, which are designed to deliver integrated health services into maternity care that can further reduce adverse maternal health outcomes.

Invest in health disparities research.

  • To fully achieve health equity, we must comprehensively understand the causes and scope of the health disparities that disproportionately affect Black Americans and ways to effectively eliminate them. Kamala knows that rigorous scientific research will guide private and public decision-making so we direct resources to where they’re most needed. That’s why she’ll commit to increasing the grant-funding capacity of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), an institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that leads scientific research to support Americans burdened by health disparities through grants advancing health equity and enhancing the diversity of the scientific workforce.

Champion environmental justice.

Kamala knows that health justice and environmental justice go hand in hand. Low-income communities and communities of color shoulder a greater burden of toxic air and unclean drinking water and the resulting health impacts than white and wealthy communities. Race bears the strongest relationship to serious violations and ineffective enforcement of drinking water law; majority-Black communities like Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey are disproportionately vulnerable to the health and environmental harms of contaminated water systems. And Black children are 4 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma than white children. That’s why, through her Climate Plan for the People, Kamala will:

  • Declare a Drinking Water Infrastructure Emergency and invest $250 billion over 5 years to repair and replace drinking water infrastructure, upgrade and maintain well water and septic systems, and help low-income households pay for high drinking water and wastewater utility bills.
  • Address the inequities created by air pollution and implement policies to decrease emissions by prioritizing meeting national air quality standards and cleaning the air in overburdened communities across the nation.
  • Mitigate students’ exposure to harmful pollutants by assisting school districts, particularly those serving low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately exposed to tailpipe emissions, in replacing traditional diesel school buses with new, electric buses.

Bolster the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kamala will make sure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the resources it needs to fight air, water, and industrial pollution in marginalized communities. That’s why she’ll:

  • Increase investment in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. Under the Harris administration, the Office of Environmental Justice will have the resources to vigorously enforce our clean air and water laws in Black communities. By ensuring that there is equal protection and enforcement in these communities, EPA can again play a major role in addressing unintended impacts and improving public health disparities that often exist from exposure to pollution.
  • Provide additional funding to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites. The EPA has established programs to clean up and sustainably reuse brownfields, the more than 450,000 vacant former industrial and commercial sites in the United States that may be contaminated by hazardous substances or pollutants, as well as Superfund and other hazardous waste sites. These sites are often located in environmentally and economically vulnerable communities, and the clean up programs provide an opportunity to reduce the impacts from legacy pollution, create jobs, and develop a skilled workforce. Kamala will speed up and prioritize this important remediation work by increasing funding designated for these programs.