Health Disparities Report at Center of Controversy

Health Disparities Report at Center of Controversy
Department altered scientists’ conclusions to fit ‘political goals,’ lawmakers say

Several lawmakers released a report last month documenting substantial alterations to the National Healthcare Disparities Report made by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services. While the draft executive summary of the report prepared by HHS scientists called health care disparities “national problems” that are “pervasive in our health care system” and carry a significant “personal and societal price,” the final report, which was released on December 23, contained none of these conclusions.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, D-Texas, Rep. Michael M. Honda, D-Calif., Del. Donna M. Christensen, D-U.S. Virgin Islands, Rep. Hilda L. Solis, D-Calif.,  Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., and Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., plan to investigate the revisions to the final report more thoroughly. Last month they sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson protesting the changes to the report and requesting information from HHS about the preparation and revision of the report.
“This is yet another example of the administration’s manipulation of science to fit its political goals,” said Waxman, who is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform. “Rather than dedicate the resources necessary to eliminate the serious health care disparities in this country, HHS is pretending they don’t exist.”
“Just like a tumor cannot be healed by covering it with a bandage, health care disparities cannot be eliminated with misrepresented facts,” said Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “I urge the Bush administration to stand by its commitment to eliminating racially defined health care disparities by 2010.
“As recommended by the National Institute of Medicine in its 562-page report entitled Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, health care disparities can only be addressed by increasing access to health care, training health care workers to deal with a diverse group of patients, recruiting more minorities to work in health care, and other action-oriented initiatives. Disparities do not disappear by concealing information.”
The report documenting the alterations was prepared by the Special Investigations Division of the minority staff of the Committee on Government Reform, and is part of the committee’s continuing investigation into politics and science in the Bush administration.
“It’s inconceivable that HHS could, in good conscience, remove the word that describes not only the shortcomings, but the pain caused by the holes in our current health care system,” said Rodriguez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Removing the word does not remove the issue.”
“Instead of leading the fight against health care disparities, HHS is downplaying the serious inequities faced by racial and ethnic minorities,” said Honda, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “By tampering with the conclusions of its own scientists, HHS is placing politics before social justice.”
The report, letter to HHS and the two versions of the National Healthcare Disparities Report executive summary are available online at <www.politicsandscience.org>. 



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