Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers

In mid-August, the Kaiser Family Foundation published an issue brief titled Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers. The following comes from the documents executive summary.

  1. What are health and health care disparities?

Health and health care disparities refer to differences in health and health care between population groups. Disparities occur across many dimensions, including race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, location, gender, disability status, and sexual orientation.

  1.   Why do health and health care disparities matter?

Disparities in health and health care not only affect the groups facing disparities, but also limit overall improvements in quality of care and health for the broader population and result in unnecessary costs. As the population becomes more diverse, with people of color projected to account for over half of the population in 2045, it is increasingly important to address health disparities.

  1.   What is the status of disparities today?

Many groups are at disproportionate risk of being uninsured, lacking access to care, and experiencing worse health outcomes, including people of color and low-income individuals. Hispanics, Blacks, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and low-income individuals are more likely to be uninsured relative to Whites and those with higher incomes. Low-income individuals and people of color also face increased barriers to accessing care, receive poorer quality care, and experience worse health outcomes.

  1.  What are key initiatives to address disparities?

The 2011 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Disparities Action Plan and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) advance efforts to reduce health disparities. The HHS Disparities Action Plan sets out a series of priorities, strategies, actions, and goals to achieve a vision of “a nation free of disparities in health and health care.” The ACA increases coverage options for low- and moderate-income populations and includes other provisions to address disparities. States, local communities, private organizations, and providers are also engaged in efforts to reduce health disparities.

  1.  How has the ACA affected health coverage disparities?

The ACA sharply reduced uninsured rates for people of color and low-income populations, but coverage disparities remain. Continued enrollment efforts may further narrow disparities, but eligibility for coverage under the ACA among the remaining nonelderly uninsured varies by race and ethnicity.

Read the full issue brief. Download the PDF.