Health Gaps

Among different populations across the United States, substantial disparities in health and health care persist.

 A doctor talks to a patient in an exam room.

The Issue:

At a time when health care providers and policy-makers are exploring new models to promote better health and improve health care, different populations experience persistent and increasing disparities in health status. In the United States, life expectancy and other health status measures vary dramatically depending on factors, such as race, sex, educational attainment, and zip code, that should not make a difference. This brief reviews recent research on health disparities.

What’s Next?

As research into the sources of America’s health gaps continues, many policy-makers have sought to translate the latest findings into effective policy solutions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the 20th century, Americans gained about 30 years in life expectancy at birth, 25 of which were the result of public health efforts such as vaccination, safer workplaces, control of communicable diseases (through clean water, sanitation, and antibiotics), and healthier mothers and babies.

National efforts to reduce disparities, such as the CMS Health Disparities PULSE Resource Center, have been established to serve as a clearinghouse of information and to track progress. And the National Academy for State Health Policy has outlined opportunities for states to advance health equity through implementation of the ACA. The results of these investments will be inherently hard to measure and the path forward will likely involve multiple approaches. But few would argue against the need to find ways to close the gaps and to advance health equity within the U.S.