The National Healthcare Disparities Report released April 20 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) shows that access to health care did not improve for most racial and ethnic groups in the years 2002 through 2008 leading up to enactment of the Affordable Care Act. The data contained in the National Healthcare Disparities Report and the companion National Healthcare Quality Report predate the Affordable Care Act. However, some provisions in the new health care law are aimed at improving health care quality and addressing health care disparities.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Action Plan to Reduce Health Disparities, announced in April 2011, outlines goals and actions HHS will take to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. The Action Plan builds on important efforts made possible by the Affordable Care Act and other ongoing private-sector and State-led initiatives.
"The health care law's groundbreaking policies will reduce health disparities identified in the report and help achieve health equity," said Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., director of AHRQ. AHRQ released the report during National Minority Health Month "to raise awareness about the steps being taken to help ensure every American receives safe and appropriate health care to help them achieve their best possible health," Clancy added.
The congressionally mandated disparities and quality reports, which AHRQ has produced annually since 2003, are based on over 40 different national sources that collect data regularly. The 2011 reports, which include about 250 health care measures, show the persistent challenges in access to care faced by most racial and ethnic groups. Fifty percent of the measures that tracked disparities in health care access showed no improvement between the years 2002 and 2008, while 40 percent of those measures were getting worse.
Specifically, for 2002 through 2008, Latinos, American Indians, and Alaska Natives experienced worse access to care than whites on more than 60 percent of the access measures, while African Americans experienced worse access on slightly more than 30 percent of the access measures. Asian Americans experienced worse access to care than non-Latino Whites on 17 percent of the access measures.
The 2011 National Healthcare Quality Report, also issued April 20, tracks the health care system through quality measures such as the percentage of adult smokers who received advice from a provider to quit or the percentage of children who received recommended vaccinations. Based on the same data and measures used in the disparities report, the congressionally mandated quality report found that overall health care quality improved slowly for the general population between the years 2002 and 2008. Both reports will serve to track progress on the Affordable Care Act in the future.
To view the National Healthcare Quality Report and National Healthcare Disparities Report, visit . In addition, AHRQ's NHQRDRnet is an online query system that allows you to access national and State data on the quality of, and access to, health care from scientifically credible measures and data sources. To use the interactive tool, visit http://nhqrnet.ahrq.gov.
Editor's note: The Affordable Care Act includes provisions that will greatly improve the health of all Americans, including racial and ethnic minorities. The law increases access to affordable health insurance coverage and high-quality care, invests in prevention and wellness, and supports improvements in primary care. To learn more about the health care law, visit "http://www.healthcare.gov.