Senate Introduces Health Equity Legislation Critical to Reduce Health Disparities and Combat Chronic Disease

The Health Equity and Accountability Act and The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act Aim to Improve Access to Health Care, Including Clinical Trials, For Communities of Color, As Well As Reduce Big Tobacco’s Grip on Nation

October 20, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate today aims to improve access to quality health care for communities of color and decrease health disparities, such as those resulting in a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in these communities. Additionally, it offers a path to increase the federal tobacco tax, including tax parity on other tobacco products like e-cigarettes, and improve access to lifesaving cessation services in Medicaid and private health plans to reduce suffering and death from tobacco-related diseases like cancer.

The Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2020 puts forth a comprehensive set of strategic policy solutions designed to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, increase data collection and reporting, diversify the health care workforce, as well as expand and improve health care services. It also includes the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act, which aims to increase access to and improve cancer clinical trial participation among communities that are traditionally underrepresented in trials.

HEAA and the Henrietta Lacks Act are strongly supported by the Congressional Tri-Caucuses which includes the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

A statement from Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) follows:

“The longstanding disparities in health care among communities of color are being made devastatingly apparent during this pandemic. Communities of color are suffering at a disproportionate rate, attributed in part to long-standing inadequacies in their access to health care and resources to treat chronic conditions, like cancer. This legislation aims to address many of these gaps through a variety of measures, starting with prevention and extending across the entire continuum of care, including access to cancer clinical trials.

“The inclusion of the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act—named after an African-American woman who died of cervical cancer and whose cells cultivated during her treatment have been used to develop some of the most important cancer treatments—would focus on identifying and removing barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from participating in cancer clinical trials. Communities of color and other medically underserved groups continue to have higher cancer rates and are less likely to be diagnosed early or receive optimal treatment compared to other groups. Clinical trials represent the best opportunity for all patients to access the most cutting-edge cancer treatments and need to be easy for patients to access, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or age.

“Additionally, the tobacco industry has long targeted Black communities, American Indian populations, lower-income individuals and the LGBTQ community. By including proven policies to reduce tobacco use – significantly increasing the tobacco tax, including tax equity on other tobacco products like e-cigarettes, and ensuring coverage of proven tobacco cessation services in Medicaid and private health plans – this legislation works to undo the decades of harm Big Tobacco has wielded on all communities, but particularly vulnerable populations.

“We cannot achieve our mission of a world with less cancer until we reduce the burden of this disease across all communities. Now is the time for meaningful action and we look forward to working with Congress on advancing this critical legislation.”



Media Contacts

Emily Rohloff
Director, Media Advocacy
Washington, D.C.