Achieving Equity in Health

Racial and ethnic minorities face worse health and health care disparities—but some interventions have made a difference.

America’s racial and ethnic minorities have worse health than whites do, and they often receive a lesser standard of health care. People who have limited education or income, or who live in poor neighborhoods, have worse health and health care compared to those who are better educated or financially better off. People with disabilities are also in worse health, and receive worse health care, compared to people without disabilities.

Narrowing these disparities in health and health care has been the goal of many public and private efforts since the early 1990s. Although some progress has been made—particularly in closing the quality gap in the care that minorities and whites receive—much more remains to be done.

The multiple causes of health and health care disparities are complex, and some are only beginning to be explored deeply.  Among the policy recommendations for making further progress are the following:

  1. Improving the quality of care across the health care system;
  2. focusing more attention to lessening or eliminating the drivers of poor health–including poverty, low levels of education, and the health and safety of neighborhoods;
  3. increasing efforts to keep health care safety-net facilities viable; and
  4. devoting more research to further understanding health disparities.

This Health Policy Brief summarizes what is known about health and health care disparities, discusses recent efforts to close the gaps, and was published online on October 6, 2011 in Health Affairs.