Will HHS Nominee Alex Azar Follow Through On Promise to Address Health Disparities Among Minorities?

At the nomination hearing for Alex Azar to become the head of the Department of Health and Human Services last Tuesday, Senator Ben Cardin asked whether Azar will work closely with the Office of Minority Health.  Mr. Azar responded that he is committed to working with the Office of Minority Health to help overcome health disparities.

That’s great news, if it’s true.

Along with many other advocacy groups, Family Equality Council submitted comments about our great concerns when HHS last fall eliminated almost all mention of ethnic and racial minorities – and all mention of LGBTQ Americans – from its draft 2018-2022 strategic plan, while referencing “faith” and “faith-based groups” over forty times.  From Family Equality Council CEO Rev. Stan Sloan’s comment letter to HHS:

We are concerned that language in the [draft HHS strategic] plan to “affirmatively accommodate” religious beliefs could be utilized as a justification for HHS-funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to place children-in care with otherwise qualified prospective parents based on those parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or religion. Such refusals could lead to lower foster and adoption rates overall, and result in increased harmful outcomes for youth served by child welfare services as outlined in the paragraph above.  

Further, we are concerned about the absence from the plan of language supporting the safety, well-being, and healthy development of children and youth, particularly vulnerable populations including LGBTQ youth. This language was present in prior HHS draft strategic plans, and it is critical that such language – and the intention behind it – be included in any HHS plan moving forward.  Not only does removing the language place LGBTQ children and youth in child welfare services at greater risk of not being placed with affirming families, it signals to providers that HHS no longer stands behind such principles and they are free to make placements that serve the placing agency and not the youth themselves. 

HHS will not meet its mission of enhancing and protecting the health and well-being of all Americans if it sticks its head in the sand and ignores major health and human services disparities experienced by a wide variety of minority populations, if it continues to drop LGBTQ questions from health surveys, and if it enables anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “accommodating” faith-based organizations.

Other questions directed at the nominee focused on Medicaid cuts and drug prices; Azar has entertained the idea of block-granting Medicaid, which would eliminate health coverage for millions of Americans; and Eli Lilly and Company more than doubled the prices of many drugs while Azar was President of the company’s U.S. Division.  Access to affordable health care and medications are key issues for LGBTQ families and we encourage the committee to provide strong oversight of HHS in these areas.  While Azar does not have the anti-LGBTQ history of prior Trump Administration HHS Secretary Tom Price, Family Equality Council will remain vigilant in serving as a watchdog and advocating against HHS actions that harm our children, youth, and families.