Health care services in the U.S. have been improving for decades, but in many instances, racial and ethnic minorities receive fewer health care services, lower quality services, and services later in the progression of illness. Some disparities in health care services can be explained by differences in income, insurance status, and medical need. However, there is increasing evidence that racial and ethnic disparities in care persist even after accounting for these factors. Disparities in health care services not only raise ethical questions, they also play a role in the differences in health status among racial and ethnic groups, and they may limit economic development in minority communities. Disparities in health care services also may affect the health and economic well being of the nation because the health of one portion of the population is ultimately linked to the health of the whole country. These concerns will become more pressing as the percentage of the population belonging to a racial or ethnic minority increases.
This Issue Brief was prepared for The Commonwealth Fund/John F. Kennedy School of Government Bipartisan Congressional Health Policy Conference, January 15–17, 2004.