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Dingell, Tlaib Urge HHS to Add “Middle Eastern or North African” Self-Identification Category to Address Health Disparities

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) today led a letter to Secretary Xavier Becerra urging the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and report data on individuals who self-identify as “Middle Eastern or North African,” or MENA, to recognize and address health disparities. Currently, data from MENA individuals is aggregated under the “White” reference category.

“Among North American and European countries that collect population-level data on race and ethnicity, the United States is the only country that considers MENA-identifying people and communities as a subgroup of the White racial category,” the lawmakers write. “HHS has the authority to collect and report data on additional groups, as established under section 4302 of the Affordable Care Act. According to HHS’ data collection standards, Statistical Policy Directive Number 15 (SPD No. 15) of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which states that agencies are to aggregate data on MENA-identifying individuals under the “White” racial category, is only the “starting point” for HHS data collection on race and ethnicity and does not place any limits on further delineation of the group.”

“A MENA category would: permit for individuals from the MENA region to choose their correct self-identification, as is consistent with HHS’ “preferred means of obtaining information about an individual’s race and ethnicity”; encourage additional granularity in a way consistent with HHS’ emphasis on such granularity being “supported by sample size” and able to “be aggregated back to the minimum standard set of race and ethnicity categories”; and improve the usefulness of data collected with respect to HHS’ and OMB’s minimum standard guidance, since disaggregated data on the MENA community would allow HHS to identify social determinants of health disparities between the broader White population and its most diverse subgroup under the current standards,” the lawmakers continue.

“To address the health disparities and meet the needs of the MENA community, we urge you to use your existing authority to include a MENA response category across all HHS data collection and reporting activities,” the lawmakers conclude. “Doing so would allow HHS to recognize and address the social determinants of the MENA community’s health outcomes and serve as an important step to addressing minority health concerns and health disparities across the United States. Additionally, we request a staff-level briefing to discuss these efforts.”

There are an estimated four million MENA residents living in the United States. On April 21st, 2022, the National Network for Arab American Communities published a Minority Population Profile report, which cited a lack of Federally collected data on MENA communities and called on the National Center for Health Statistics to begin collecting demographic data on MENA residents.

The letter is also signed by Representatives Luis Correa, Marie Newman, Nanette Barragán, Ritchie Torres, Sara Jacobs, Jan Schakowsky, Pramila Jayapal, Dwight Evans, Scott Peters, Ro Khanna, and Robin Kelly.

Click here to view the full letter text. 
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