Collection of Race and Ethnicity Data by Health Plans Has Grown Substantially, but Opportunities Remain to Expand Efforts

In 2003, the Institute of Medicine called on health plans to collect data on their members’ race and ethnicity as a foundation for improving the quality of care and reducing disparities. This article describes the progress made toward collecting these data, the most commonly used data collection methods, and the challenges plans have encountered.

These researchers found that from 2003 through 2008, the proportion of plans that collected members’ data on race and ethnicity doubled in the commercial market to 60 percent. It increased even more sharply to 94 percent and 83 percent, respectively, for plans covering Medicaid and Medicare Advantage enrollees. However, the scope of data collection varied greatly across plans, and data collection was an organization-wide initiative in a minority of plans.

To fulfill the goals of recent legislation, including the Affordable Care Act, health plans will need to expand their efforts. Among other steps, plans and other key stakeholders should agree on uniform race and ethnicity categories, modify information systems to capture these data, and increase members’ trust so that self-reported data—the most accurate data on race and ethnicity—can be gathered.