Kaiser Family Foundation
Racial and ethnic disparities in health care – whether in insurance coverage, access, or quality of care – are one of many factors producing inequalities in health status in the United States.1 Eliminating these disparities is politically sensitive and challenging in part because their causes are intertwined with a contentious history of race relations in America. Nonetheless, assuring greater equity and accountability of the health care system is important to a growing constituency base, including health plan purchasers, payers, and providers of care. To the extent that inequities in the health care system result in lost productivity or use of services at a later stage of illness, there are health and social costs that affect us all.
Why Health Care Disparities Are a Concern
One in three residents of the United States self-identify as either African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, or multiracial. By 2050, this number is expected to increase to one in two.2
Despite significant advances in civil rights, race remains a significant factor in determining whether an individual receives care, whether an individual receives high-quality care, and in determining health outcomes.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) landmark report, Unequal Treatment, provides compelling evidence that racial/ethnic disparities persist in medical care for a number of health conditions and services.3 Numerous efforts are underway to reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic health care disparities, and to address some of the social factors that affect health care outcomes. Yet despite these many efforts, disparities in access to quality care remain, and for some measures being tracked, gaps in care are getting larger rather than smaller.4
Key Facts on Race, Ethnicity and Health Care in the U.S.
ADDRESSING HEALTH CARE DISPARITIES
Although attention to racial/ethnic disparities in care has increased among policymakers, there is little consensus on what can or should be done to reduce these disparities. The U.S. Congress provided early leadership on the issue by legislatively mandating the IOM study on health care disparities, creating the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health, and requiring DHHS to produce the National Healthcare Disparities Report.5 This brief examines four broad policy areas for addressing racial and ethnic health care disparities: READ FULL ARTICLE