Fate or Economy

Healthcare Disparities Widening

Physicians and other providers have known for some time about healthcare disparities. In a recent editorial, the American Medical Association (AMA) president, Jeremy A. Lazarus, forcefully states that it is well beyond time that these inequalities are eliminated.

The latest National Healthcare Disparities Report examines the existing disparities in healthcare delivery related to racial and socioeconomic factors in the United States. It found not only a continuation of healthcare disparities in minority populations, but also uncovered several areas where disparities are worsening over time both between minorities and whites, and between poor and high-income populations.

The 2011 National Healthcare Disparities Report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality stated that both healthcare quality and access in the U.S. are suboptimal, especially for racial and ethnic minorities and low-income groups. There are inequalities in care for cardiovascular disease, asthma, behavioral health, diabetes, flu, infant mortality, cancer, HIV/AIDS, oral health, viral hepatitis, chronic liver diseases, kidney disease, injury deaths, and injuries related to violence. The AMA’s Lazarus commented that having minority populations more at risk than white populations because of disparities in healthcare is shameful.

Several initiatives are intended to address these disparities:

  •  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has a number of major elements including more than 60 provisions that could contribute toward ending these appalling disparities. For example, the ACA will expand initiatives to increase diversity in the healthcare professions and strengthen cultural competency training.
  • The AMA has had several programs in place since early 2000, including the Doctors Back to School program aimed at children from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to encourage them to consider medicine as an attainable career option; a white paper providing specific recommendations for policymakers, health system leaders, and clinicians on approaches for caring for patients with limited English proficiency; and several other physician-directed initiatives.
  • The Commission to End Health Care Disparities is working to bring quality healthcare to underserved populations. This Commission will meet in Denver on March 22 and 23, and will concentrate on disparities in cardiovascular disease care as a part of a much larger effort.

The 2011 National Healthcare Disparities Report reported that the gap between best possible care and routinely delivered care remains sizeable across the country. While progress is being made on aspects of care and quality of care, much more is still urgently needed to improve health outcomes and decrease inequalities.

Click here to read the AMA editorial in the American Medical News, or here to read the detailed 2011 National Healthcare Disparities Report.

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