Earlier this year, after releasing a report on racial and ethnic health disparities, we asked people in Connecticut to reflect on why race matters to them. The COVID-19 pandemic led us to delay this series, but we thought this contribution from state Sen. Kevin Kelly was relevant to the current situation. Sen. Kelly represents the 21st Senatorial District which includes the towns of Monroe, Seymour, Shelton and Stratford.
If you’d like to submit your own reflections, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Why does race matter to the legislature?
A: From State Senator Kevin Kelly, Ranking Member of the Insurance & Real Estate Committee, Aging Committee, and Committee on Children
Connecticut has been a leader in tackling bipartisan reforms to make health care more accessible and affordable. But there are still many issues in health care that need to be considered more closely and problems that need solutions. One of those issues is health care equity.
Race matters to the legislature because evidence shows race impacts health outcomes in ways that are unacceptable, inexcusable and not yet understood.
The Connecticut Health Foundation released a study this year that found that babies born to African-American mothers are more than four times as likely to die before their first birthday as babies born to white mothers in Connecticut. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) African American, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women. A recent study in New York compared birth outcomes among African-American, Latina and white mothers who had babies at the same hospitals. The study found non-white women had a significantly higher risk of developing life-threatening birth complications than white women even in the same maternity wards and with the same type of insurance.
For me personally, I have long advocated for health care policies that make sure pregnant women, new mothers and their babies have access to affordable health care so that they can start their lives and continue their lives as healthy as possible. One of the most difficult challenges I have faced as a lawmaker in the legislature was passing a law to make pregnancy a qualifying life event so mothers could get insurance when they find out they are pregnant, instead of having to wait until they give birth to qualify. After years of struggle, the bill finally passed with strong bipartisan support. But clearly looking at these recent studies, our work to provide the highest quality of care for pregnant women and babies is far from done. Health equity must be part of the discussion.
We also cannot talk about health equity without recognizing the shocking preliminary numbers released in recent weeks about the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on minority populations. State health officials say African Americans are two times as likely as whites to be infected. Latinos make up 16% of the state population, but they account for a quarter of confirmed cases. While we don’t know the full extent of how COVID-19 will impact all people in our state yet, the writing is on the wall. Now more than ever we need to make sure we understand what inequity exists in our health care system so that we can help all people access high quality care.
Race matters, but it shouldn’t when it comes to health care access.