Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Access to Care: Has the Affordable Care Act Made a Difference?

The following excerpt comes from the Issue Brief written by Susan L. Hayes, Pamela Riley, David Radley, and Douglas McCarthy.  It was originally posted to the Commonwealth Fund website on August 24, 2017.


Historically, in the United States, there has been a wide gulf between whites and members of minority groups in terms of health insurance coverage and access. Proponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hoped that law’s major insurance coverage expansions and reforms would begin to bridge those gaps.

Evidence suggests that uninsured rates have declined among blacks and Hispanics under the ACA, but have these coverage gains reduced disparities between whites and ethnic and racial minorities? This brief seeks to answer that question and to examine if disparities in access to coverage and care are different in states that expanded Medicaid and states that did not.

We compared national averages between 2013 and 2015 for white, black, and Hispanic adults on three key measures of health care access to determine the effect of the ACA’s major coverage expansions on disparities:

  • the share of uninsured working-age adults ages 19 to 64
  • the share of adults age 18 and older who went without care because of costs in the past year
  • the share of adults age 18 and older without a usual source of care.

These measures align with those reported in the Commonwealth Fund Scorecard on State Health System Performance, 2017 Edition.

Additionally, we sought to determine if there were differences in disparities in states that chose to expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA and states that did not. For each indicator, we calculated the average rate for white, black, and Hispanic individuals in 2013 and in 2015 in two groups of states: the group of 27 states that, along with the District of Columbia, expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA between January 1, 2014, and January 1, 2015, and the group of 23 states that had not expanded Medicaid as of that time.

As the current administration and Congress weigh how to move forward after the recent failed attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, it is useful to examine how successful the law has been in making health care available to racial and ethnic groups that have historically been left out.

Findings include:

  • Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Adult Uninsured Rates Narrowed After the ACA’s Major Coverage Expansions
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Rates of Adults Who Went Without Care Because of Costs Narrowed After the ACA’s Major Coverage Expansions
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Rates of Adults Without a Usual Source of Care Narrowed After the ACA’s Major Coverage Expansions
  • Disparities Between Hispanic and White Adult Uninsured Rates in Medicaid Expansion States vs. Nonexpansion States, 2013–2015
  • Disparities Between Black and White Adult Uninsured Rates in Medicaid Expansion States vs. Nonexpansion States, 2013–2015
  • Disparities Between Hispanic and White Adults Who Went Without Care Because of Costs in Expansion States vs. Nonexpansion States, 2013–2015
  • Disparities Between Black and White Adults Who Went Without Care Because of Costs in Expansion States vs. Nonexpansion States, 2013–2015
  • Disparities Between Hispanic and White Adults Without a Usual Source of Care in Medicaid Expansion States vs. Nonexpansion States, 2013–2015

Download the full issue brief.

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