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AHRQ Report Shows Few Gains Made in Health Care for Racial and Ethnic Minorities

April 25, 2012—The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) April 20 released new editions of the National Healthcare Disparities Report and the companion National Healthcare Quality Report The National Healthcare Disparities Report, which draws on data from more than three dozen databases, indicates that health care quality in America is “suboptimal, especially for minority and low-income groups” and the “gap between the best possible care and that which is routinely delivered remains substantial.”  Racial and ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged continue to face more barriers to care and receive poorer quality care once they do receive it.   The 2011 report also specifically emphasizes care and quality gaps faced by older Americans.

Since 2003, AHRQ has been congressionally mandated to report on the progress and challenges to achieving health care equity in the United States.  According to the 2011 report, notwithstanding overall improvements to health care quality for all racial/ethnic and income groups, significant gaps persist: compared with whites, racial and ethnic minorities received worse care across 30 – 41 percent of quality measures.

Similar inequities were found in measures of health care access: 90 percent of access measures showed no improvement or were headed in the wrong direction.  The report also finds that for certain health outcomes and preventive measures related to illnesses like diabetes and cancer, racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities are worsening.

While the 2011 reports present data that predate enactment of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148 and P.L. 111-152), they focus on recent national health care quality and disparity reduction priorities set by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Action Plan to Reduce Health Disparities and its National Strategy for Quality Improvement in Health Care [see Washington Highlights, April 15, 2011].

Both of these strategies stress the importance of improving the availability and quality of data collected on racial and ethnic minority populations. The 2011 National Healthcare Disparities Report notes that while data collection is improving, for some priority groups, particularly Asians, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, and poor populations, quality and access estimates could not be calculated for more than half of the measures due to insufficient data.


Philip M. Alberti, PhD
Senior Director, Health Equity Research and Policy
Telephone: 202-828-0522


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