Perceptions of Discrimination and Unfair Judgment While Seeking Health Care: Findings from September 2021 Coronavirus Tracking Survey

Man waiting in am examination room.

Black adults report being discriminated against or unfairly judged by health care providers and their staff at a rate almost three times higher than White adults and about twice as high as Latino / Hispanic adults, according to a new analysis of 2020 survey data.


The Issue

Inequities in health insurance coverage and access to care are well-documented but the mechanisms behind these inequities are complex and often include interpersonal experiences of discrimination or unfair judgement in health care settings. Research shows that people are often discriminated against or treated unfairly in health care settings because of disabilities, gender identity or sexual orientation, and race or ethnicity.

Key Findings

This study examines survey data that asked respondents whether in the last 12 months they had felt a doctor, medical provider, or health care staff had judged them unfairly or discriminated against them. An analysis of the survey responses finds:

  • 10.6 percent of Black adults reported discrimination or unfair judgement by a health care provider or their staff based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or health condition.

  • Among Black adults, women (13.1%) and low-income individuals (14.6%) reported discrimination or unfair judgement at particularly high rates.

  • The share of Black adults reporting any discrimination or unfair judgment was nearly three times higher than white adults (3.6%) and about twice as high as Latino/Hispanic adults (4.5%).

  • Overall, 5.1 percent of all nonelderly adults reported having been discriminated against or judged unfairly.  

    • Race or ethnicity was the most common reason reported for perceived discrimination or unfair judgment, cited by 3 percent of all adults and 7.9 percent of Black adults.


The analysis finds that Black adults, particularly Black women and Black adults with low-incomes, face discrimination in health care settings at particularly high rates. Failure to tackle health inequities stemming from discrimination or unfair treatment in health care settings can have serious consequences for an individual’s health and the quality of care they are able to receive.

About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.