Eliminating Health Care Disparities in Your Practice

Health care disparities have significant economic consequences for the health care system, and in turn, for the business of medicine.

A 2009 Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report found that such excess costs related to health care disparities were responsible for more than 30 percent — more than $230 billion — of direct medical costs for African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans from 2003 to 2006.

These excess costs result from the costlier care required to treat sicker people — patients who have not, for example, received preventive services such as recommended colorectal cancer screenings and other timely interventions.

A 2012 national health care disparities report found that while overall quality of health care in the United States is improving, health care disparities are not. The report found that blacks and Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic whites for 40 percent of quality measures; American Indians received worse care than whites for one-third of quality measures. And, Hispanics had the worse access to care compared to non-Hispanic whites for 70 percent of access measures; American Indians for 40 percent; and blacks for one third of access measures compared to non-whites.

In Massachusetts, we have several years’ experience with health care reform, and have seen most of our residents obtain insurance coverage. Yet, studies find that even among those with insurance, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities persist in both health care access and outcomes.

Because the Census Bureau estimates that in 30 years, half of the U.S. population will be minorities, finding ways to eliminate disparities through policy, systems, and practice changes will be critical to the long term viability of the health care system and its practices.

In cooperation with the Commission to End Health Care Disparities, the MMS will convene health care leaders from around the state and the nation at a Public Health Leadership Forum in April to discuss health care disparities, and examine the effects of health care reform on health care disparities as well as opportunities for further progress.

—Robyn Alie
MMS Public Health Manager

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