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AHRQ Disparities Report Shows Healthcare Gaps in Quality and Access Persist

May 24, 2013—The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) May 16 released new editions of the National Healthcare Disparities Report and the companion National Healthcare Quality Report.  The 10th annual National Healthcare Disparities Report, which draws on data from more than three dozen databases and presents trends through 2009 or 2010 for the majority of analyses, indicates that while quality of care is slowly improving overall, access is worsening and healthcare disparities, particularly for minorities and groups with lower socio-economic status, have seen little to no improvement.  The 2012 report also specifically emphasizes the urgent need to address disparities in cancer care and geographic variations in quality of care.

Since 2003, AHRQ has been congressionally mandated to report on the progress and challenges to achieving healthcare equity in the United States.  According to the 2012 report, notwithstanding overall improvements to healthcare quality for all racial/ethnic and income groups, significant gaps persist: compared with whites, racial and ethnic minorities receive worse care across 25 to 40 percent of quality measures, and poor and low-income people receive worse care than individuals with high income for roughly 60 percent of quality measures. 

These disparities are even more pronounced for measures of healthcare access: poor, low-income, and middle-income people had worse access to care than wealthy Americans for 100 percent, 80 percent, and 70 percent of access measures, respectively, while blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics experienced decreased access for 33 to 70 percent of measures as compared with whites.

The report also finds that while quality of care received for acute illness and injury is steadily improving across most indicators, very little improvement has been seen in chronic disease management and preventive care outcomes.

The 2012 National Healthcare Disparities Report also notes that while race/ethnicity and income data collection is improving, for some priority groups, particularly Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and poor populations, quality and access estimates could not be calculated for 40 to 80 percent of measures due to insufficient data. 

Similarly, the report notes that data on other priority groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations are often unavailable despite evidence of personal and structural barriers to getting quality medical care.


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


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