Fifty years ago this July, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act was viewed by many as a powerful symbol of the nation's commitment to racial equality. It was the most comprehensive civil rights law enacted up to that point - tackling discrimination in employment, education, voting, public accommodations, and federally funded programs, such as those financing health care. And although health care discrimination has not typically garnered as much attention as discrimination in other settings, inequality in health care was seen as a serious problem that the Civil Rights Act was needed to address.
reported to have said that "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal funds, has been an important tool for fighting discrimination in health care. In theory, tying anti-discrimination protections to federal funding would give the government greater leverage to enforce Title VI against health care providers who wanted those funds. In reality, Title VI's power as an anti-discrimination tool depended on the federal government's willingness to devote significant resources to health care to ensure that this leverage existed.