The Issue

Certain racial and ethnic populations in the United States suffer from worse health and receive lower-quality health care than whites—regardless of where they live, their income or their health insurance coverage.

Why It Matters

  • Identifying and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care is a national priority. This is especially true because the majority of people in America are expected to be non-White in just a few short decades.
  • Patients who are racial and/or ethnic minorities in the United States experience higher rates of illness and death than non-minorities. At no time in United States history has the health status of minority populations equaled or approximated that of Whites.
  • The evidence of disparities is strongest for African Americans and Hispanics and is growing for American Indians. African Americans die more frequently from heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, and Hispanics are almost twice as likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic Whites. There is strong evidence that African Americans with coronary artery disease or heart attacks are significantly less likely than Whites to receive appropriate procedures or therapies, even when all other factors are equal.

Policy Context

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) calls for increased tracking of patient race and ethnicity, a key step in identifying and reducing disparities. While there are many causes of health disparities, some are easier to fix than others. Poverty, racism and personal health behaviors are very difficult to influence. But whether a doctor or hospital delivers consistent, quality health care can be evaluated and influenced through specific systemic and policy changes. And since the 2003 publication of the Institute of Medicine’s seminal report on racial and ethnic disparities in American health care, “Unequal Treatment,” it is a topic that has received significant attention from state and federal policy-makers.

Disparities Fast Facts

Chronic Illness Disparities

Elevated rates of chronic illness due to health disparities will cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $337 billion from 2009-2018.

Read more

African Americans Experience Higher Death Rates

In 2009, the age-adjusted death rate for the non-Hispanic black population was 26.6 percent higher than that of the non-Hispanic white population.

Read more