Health Care Disparities: An Overview

Health disparities refer to gaps in the quality of health and health care across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.1 The Health Resources and Services Administration defines health disparities as "population-specific differences in the presence of disease, health outcomes, or access to health care."2

In the United States, health care disparities are well documented in minority populations such as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.2 When compared to whites, these minority groups have higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer health outcomes.2 Among the disease-specific examples of racial and ethnic disparities in the United States is the cancer incidence rate among African Americans, which is 10% higher than among whites.3 In addition, adult African Americans and Latinos have approximately twice the risk as whites of developing diabetes.3 Minorities also have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality than whites.2


Reasons for Health Disparities

There are many possible reasons for these disparities, including access to high-quality care; cultural and language barriers; health literacy barriers; limited cultural competence of providers and health care organizations; biases; prejudices and stereotypes that may affect the way providers render care; and lack of trust by minority patients for the health care establishment.


How Highmark is Working to Reduce Health Care Disparities

Eliminating disparities goes hand-in-hand with Highmark's mission to make affordable, quality health care available to everyone. Highmark Inc. has formed a multi-dimensional approach to focus on health care disparities, and has been addressing this issue for several years through activities including data collection; focused interventions; and national initiatives that are designed to reduce disparities and improve the quality of care for all. Highmark has formed a multi-dimensional approach to focus on health care disparities, and has been addressing this issue for several years through activities including data collection; focused interventions, improving language access, partnerships with community organizations and national initiatives that are designed to reduce disparities and improve the quality of care for all.

Reducing health care disparities is important to Highmark. We will continue to take an active role in developing and implementing strategies to reduce or eliminate disparities through more effective communication tools and strategies to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse membership and marketplace. Some of our current strategies include:

  • Voluntary collection of member race, ethnicity and language preference data (post-enrollment)
  • Member outreach
  • Provider outreach
  • Health literacy initiatives
  • Cultural competency initiatives


To learn more about health disparities and Highmark's efforts to address disparities, click the links below:

CDC Health Disparities Brochures

 

Back to Health Equity & Quality Services main

 

 

References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Healthy People 2010
  2. Goldberg, J., Hayes, W., and Huntley, J. "Understanding Health Disparities." Health Policy Institute of Ohio (November 2004)
  3. American Public Health Association (APHA), Eliminating Health Disparities: Toolkit (2004)
Last updated on 1/11/2018

 

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