Warren, Pressley renew call for trove of national data on race and coronavirus, this time aimed at Medicare

Calls for national data about COVID-19 and race increased this week.

April 10, 2020, 6:00 AM

Former 2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren pushed yet again Friday morning for the federal government to shed a light on racial disparities rearing in the battle against coronavirus, this time calling on the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, whose agency collects data from millions of Americans enrolled in the government-run health care programs.

Verma told reporters at a White House coronavirus task force briefing earlier this week that her agency had data on coronavirus patients, including race, and planned to release that information. Verma didn't provide a timeline and the data has not yet been released.

Warren paired up with Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey, both Democrats from Warren's state of Massachusetts, and called on Verma directly to release the data on Friday.

"We urge you to immediately release the data on COVID-19 testing, treatment (including hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit admissions), and fatalities, broken down by race and ethnicity, gender, and area of the country. We are encouraged that you committed to releasing Medicare claims data of this nature in a White House press briefing on April 7, 2020," Warren, Pressley and Markey, wrote in the letter to Verma, obtained by ABC News.

"We further call on CMS to continue releasing this data on a weekly basis throughout the duration of the coronavirus public health emergency," they wrote.

Verma, who attended the White House coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, offered the information about Medicare and Medicaid data when the task force was fielding questions from reporters about the disproportionate deaths in African American communities from coronavirus.

"We now have a code for coronavirus so we can actually stratify by demographic information, so we can look at race as a factor. We can also look at what the underlying health issues are as well. So we will be providing that data very shortly. We will be giving that analysis," Verma said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert in infectious disease, also answered the question, saying national data would be made public as soon as there's enough "to make a meaningful statement." Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the coronavirus task force, said the team was "assembling that data now."

The calls for national data about coronavirus and race has grown louder over the last week as states and cities like Milwaukee, New York and Louisiana have published their own data showing blatant, and at times tragic, disparities between white and black residents, who are dying at significantly higher rates.

PHOTO: Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, attends a briefing following a meeting of the coronavirus task force, in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, April 7, 2020.
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, attends a briefing following a meeting of the coronavirus task force, in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, April 7, 2020.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

Seventy percent of coronavirus deaths in Milwaukee have been African Americans, even though African Americans are less than a third of the county’s population, for example. Similarly, in Chicago, African Americans are 30% of the population but 69% of coronavirus deaths; and in Louisiana, African Americans are 32% of the population but 70 percent of coronavirus deaths. In New York, preliminary data showed Latinos made up 34% of deaths in New York City, despite being 29% of the population, while African Americans were 28% of deaths, compared with 22% of the population.

But it's not the first time Warren has called for such data, nor is it the first time she's requested the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services release it. Back in late March, largely before states and cities had begun to make that information public, Warren was one of the first to call for public data in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. She and other legislators, including Pressley, asked HHS and it's agencies -- including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services -- to collect and report data about racial disparities and the illness spreading rapidly across the country.

Without the data, she and others warned, policy makers and researchers would be in the dark in addressing the existing health inequities already written into the system that risk "accelerating the impact" of coronavirus.

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