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Addressing Health Care Disparities

Purchaser & Health Plan Initiatives


Lola Chriss, Texas Instruments, Dallas, TX.

Patricia Hassett, Vice President and Chief of Staff, Aetna, Inc., Hartford, CT.

The problem of health care disparities across racial and ethnic groups not only exists within low-income populations. These disparities exist at all income levels and within populations who have employer-sponsored health care coverage.

According to Lola Chriss of Texas Instruments, many large employers—including her own—are paying greater attention to the problem of health care disparities because of their concern about the value they are receiving for their ever-increasing health care expenditures and the negative impact that poor quality care has on worker productivity.

Other groups addressing this issue include:

  • The Washington Business Group on Health is sponsoring an initiative to provide information to large employers about the impact of health disparities on their employees, provide practical solutions on how to plan and purchase appropriate health care for their diverse workforce, and bring the perspective of private purchasers to the research and policymaking community to serve as a link between the business and public health communities. Texas Instruments is actively involved in this initiative.

  • Health plans also are beginning to explore ways in which they can help address health care disparities. Patricia Hassett of Aetna, Inc., a large national health plan, described her plan's current efforts to address health care disparities within its member population. Aetna has shown significant leadership on this issue by initiating a project to voluntarily collect racial and ethnic data from enrollees. The collection and analysis of this information will enable Aetna to identify groups experiencing health care disparities and to design and implement targeted interventions to address problems identified.

    While there were initial concerns that members would not be willing to provide this information to the plan, a key feature of Aetna's approach was to request the information after a member's application for coverage was approved, not as part of the application process itself. Aetna's experience to date has been quite positive—85 percent of its members who were asked to provide information on their race and ethnicity did so.

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