UN Committee Calls on United States to Immediately Address Racial Discrimination in Health Care

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Recommendations from Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) call for immediate action to address inequity in health care coverage, sky-high maternal mortality rates
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(PRESS RELEASE) The United States has failed to make sufficient progress in addressing racial and gender disparities in access to health care, according to new concluding observations (attached) from the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The Committee undertook its review of the U.S.’s record on eliminating racial discrimination in policy and practice to meet the government’s international human rights commitments on August 13-14 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Today’s recommendations echo recommendations provided in a new report focused on how racial discrimination in law and practice interferes with women’s fundamental human right to health, with a particular focus on the maternal health of Black women in the South and immigrant women’s access to reproductive health care.

The report—titled Reproductive Injustice: Racial and Gender Discrimination in US Health Care—was issued earlier this month by the Center for Reproductive Rights, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Said Katrina Anderson,senior human rights counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today the UN Committee rightfully recognized the wide disparities in sexual and reproductive health that exist in the United States for what it is: racial discrimination and a human rights violation that demands government accountability and swift action.

“The U.S. has more health resources than any other country, yet women of color are dying from preventable causes and failing to get the reproductive health care they need. No woman in the U.S. should endure such poor care because of her immigration status or race. 

“It’s time that the United States government take action to address the huge gaps that still persist when it comes to systemic and institutional barriers women of color face when accessing health care.”         

The CERD Committee is calling on the United States to immediately implement key policy changes and proactive measures that would address these overlapping forms of discrimination against women of color and immigrant women.  Specifically:

  • While recognizing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands coverage for many Americans, the Committee expresses concern that the benefits of the ACA are not available to all living within the United States’ borders. Specifically, the Committee urged the U.S. to “Take concrete measures to ensure that all individuals … have effective access to affordable and adequate health-care services, including undocumented immigrants who are excluded from the ACA due to their citizenship status and legal residents prohibited by the five-year waiting period from qualifying for Medicaid." It also raised alarms about health access for those living in the 24 states refusing to expand Medicaid, including millions of low-income women of color in the South. Many of these recommendations echo those made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in March 2014.
  • The Committee expressed particular “concern at the persistence of racial disparities in the field of sexual and reproductive health, particularly with regard to the high maternal and infant mortality rates among African American communities.” It called on the U.S. to step up its efforts to address these disparities, especially to (1) “Standardize the data collection system on maternal and infant deaths in all states to effectively identify and address the causes of disparities” and (2) “Improve monitoring and accountability  mechanisms for preventable maternal mortality, including by ensuring that state maternal mortality review boards have sufficient resources and capacity.”

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a human rights treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994. The United States is required to submit periodic reports to the Committee on how its commitments are being implemented, including its obligation to ensure the right to health care is free from all forms of racial discrimination to all within its borders.