NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

National Health Care Disparities

January 22, 2004

People with lower incomes and racial and ethnic minorities have experienced poorer health and greater challenges in accessing high quality care, in comparison with other groups. Recent studies have also pointed to differences in clinical care provided to women, children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.

Examples of these disparities in care are:

  • After a heart attack, women are less likely than men to receive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and cardiac rehabilitation and more likely to die or have a second heart attack.
  • Overall, Hispanics are less likely to receive aspirin and beta blockers when hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) compared with non-Hispanic whites.
  • Those patients who have both Medicaid and Medicare, indicating lower income levels, are hospitalized for AMI are less likely to receive aspirin and beta blockers within 24 hours compared with other Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Hispanic pneumonia patients are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to receive initial antibiotic dose within 8 hours of arrival for treatment.
  • Although certain minorities and people of lower income levels are less likely to have cancer screening, the percentages reporting a Pap smear in the past 3 years are surprising; 84 percent of black women, 82 percent of white women, and 66 percent of Asian women.

Researchers are unclear about why such differences exist. They indicate that currently collected national data are useful but not sufficient for examining many racial, ethnic and income level differences in U.S. health care. More complete health care data could enhance understanding of why differences in health and health care exist and would help to determine the appropriate intervention for specific populations.

Source: "National Healthcare Disparities Report," December 2003, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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