One of the goals of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been to ensure that minority and other underrepresented groups have access to comprehensive healthcare and services. For this reason CBC members have placed healthcare among their top priorities. Throughout the history of the CBC, members have worked together and in conjunction with other groups in Congress to pass important healthcare legislation related to minorities, including the recent Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit and Discount Act and the Minority Health Bill. However, these pieces of legislation do not bear witness to the tireless efforts of the CBC or the work of African American congresswomen surrounding health issues.
Because of the volume of legislation sponsored and cosponsored by the women of the CBC, we are only able to give an overview of the diverse interests of African-American Congresswomen with regards to Healthcare.
The women of the CBC have worked to advance the quality of healthcare for poor and underrepresented groups. One of the ways they have pursued this goal is to enhance and amend existing healthcare legislation. During the 1970’s and 1980’s African-American congresswomen proposed and cosponsored a number of bills to amend such legislation as the Social Security Act and the Public Health Service Act. They wanted to ensure that the medically underserved had access to basic health services. They introduced legislation that would enable medical institutions to better meet the needs of low-income clients. They, along with other members of the CBC, advocated for comprehensive healthcare coverage for all Americans.
In the early 1970’s, Congresswoman Yvonne Braithwaite Burke (D-CA) proposed amendments to the Internal Revenue Act and the Social Security Act that, if enacted, would have provided a comprehensive program of healthcare by strengthening the organization and delivery of healthcare nationwide and by making comprehensive healthcare insurance available to all Americans. She also proposed legislation to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for adequate outpatient care in medically underserved areas. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX) also wanted to amend the Social Security Act to require hospitals to furnish patients with written notice of the charges for inpatient hospital services. At the same time, Congresswoman Shirley A. Chisholm (D-NY) supported legislation to amend the Social Security Act to strengthen and improve Medicaid services to low-income children and pregnant women.
Another major concern of the women of the CBC is preventative health. Beginning in the mid-1970’s, Congresswoman Cardiss Collins (D-IL) launched campaign to secure coverage of routine diagnostic tests for women such as pap smears and mammograms. She pursued these efforts well into the 1990’s. Rep. Collins also tried to amend the Social Security Act so that Medicare-participating hospitals would be able to provide vital medical and other health services to low income patients. Likewise, she proposed legislation to have dental services covered under the Medicare program and to require hospitals to provide care or arrange for care for individuals in emergency medical conditions without regard to their ability to pay for the care.
During the 1990’s the women of the CBC continued their efforts to enhance existing legislation related to public health. Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D-CA), Carrie Meek (D-FL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) were among the CBC members who proposed legislation to amend the Public Health Service Act by expanding and intensifying activities related to a number of issues including mental health, lupus, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and related bone diseases. Senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) fought to pass companion legislation in the Senate.
The women of the CBC were also concerned with the quality of healthcare service providers. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI) and Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-VI) fought to provide incentives such as tax credits to primary health providers who established practices in underserved areas and sought to encourage managed care organizations to contract with these providers. Congresswomen Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) also brought the plight of women veterans to the forefront when they attempted to secure legislation that would improve healthcare services provided to female veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
African-American congresswomen have also made consistent efforts to bring issues related to women’s health to the forefront. Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) recognized the critical importance of women’s cervical health. She and Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) proposed legislation to eradicate and bring national attention to the effects of uterine fibroids.
In recent years, African-American congresswomen have continued in their fight to make Medicare, the Public Health Service Act and the Social Security Act better meet the needs of the underrepresented. For example, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) sought to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for data collection on cancer through a national program of cancer registries. Likewise, Rep. Kilpatrick (D-MI) sought to establish a program to provide technical assistance to school-based health centers. Del. Norton (D-DC) also presented an amendment to the Social Security Act to provide medical assistance for men found to have prostate cancer. Reps. Carson (D-IN) and Johnson (D-TX) proposed legislation seeking to help individuals retain social security income, social security disability, and Medicaid benefits after being released from public institutions.
In the last decade, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has moved to the forefront in the concerns of the CBC. Members of the CBC have proposed legislation designed to reduce transmission of the virus, to educate the public about HIV/AIDS, and to provide healthcare and services to individuals infected with HIV/AIDS, particularly those from minority and low-income communities. Some examples of the kind of legislation proposed include Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald’s (D-CA) proposed legislation to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to children and Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among the incarcerated. Rep. Lee has been particularly active on this issue, proposing legislation related to the reduction of HIV rates and other sexually transmitted diseases, particularly among women.
Other issues that CBC members have been vocal about include stem cell research and the eradication of preventable conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, which disproportionately affect African Americans.