Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Access to and Quality of Health Care

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Racial and ethnic disparities in access to care and quality of care are pervasive, but not universal.

Racial and ethnic disparities in health care are consistent across a range of diseases and health care services.

These disparities are associated with socioeconomic differences and tend to diminish when socioeconomic factors are accounted for, but disparities remain even after adjusting for health insurance coverage, income, education and health care system characteristics that influence access to and quality of health care.

This report focuses on two key dimensions of health care—access and quality—and on the three racial and ethnic groups for which a body of research has accumulated—non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics.

Key Findings

  • Racial and ethnic disparities in access to and quality of care are pervasive although not universal. The largest access disparities are for Spanish-speaking Hispanics. 

  • Insurance coverage, income and other factors explain a portion of disparities, but gaps remain after accounting for these measures.

  • After adjusting for other factors, disparities in recommended processes of care—the appropriate use of screening tests, medications and laboratory tests—tend to be small or nonexistent.

  • Disparities are larger for intermediate outcomes, newer therapies, and invasive procedures even after adjusting for other factors.

What is Health Equity?

This RWJF report defines health equity and identifies crucial elements to guide effective action to reduce disparities in health status.

Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity

An examination by national experts in public health, health care, civil rights, social science, education, research and business of different types of solutions to promote health equity.