The Nation's overall quality of care is improving about 3 percent each year, and it has improved from 15 to 20 percent over the past decade. However, access to care is getting worse, and disparities in care are barely changing.
Those are the conclusions of AHRQ's 2012 National Healthcare Quality Report (NHQR) and National Healthcare Disparities Report (NHDR). Each year since 2003, AHRQ has used these Congressionally mandated reports to gauge the state of U.S. health care. This year's reports show that low-income people had worse access to care for a whopping 80 percent of measures. Blacks had worse access to care than non-Hispanic whites for one-third of access measures, American Indian and Alaska Natives for 40 percent, and Hispanics for 70 percent.
Low-income and minority groups also suffered worse quality of care. For example, blacks and Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic whites for about 40 percent of quality measures. Poor and low-income people received worse care than high-income people for about 60 percent of quality measures. Even middle-income people received worse care than high-income people for more than half the measures.
Already, the 2010 Affordable Care Act has improved access to health care for more than 3 million additional young adults who can remain enrolled in their parent's health insurance plans until age 26. The law also creates health insurance exchanges where people who do not have health insurance from an employer can obtain health insurance.
I am confident that as the Affordable Care Act affords more Americans important health care services, access to care and the health of Americans will improve. The ultimate goal of the NHQR, NHDR, and such HHS initiatives as the National Quality Strategy and Disparities Action Plan is to make the lives of patients and families better. Building on data in the NHQR, NHDR, and State Snapshots derived from these data, stakeholders can design and target strategies and clinical interventions to ensure that all patients receive the high-quality care needed to improve their health.
Carolyn Clancy, M.D.