Better Data Needed to ‘Close Gaps’ in Racial/Ethnic Health Care Disparities
"[W]ide gaps" exist between federal initiatives designed to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health care and how federal agencies are collecting data "needed to achieve these goals," a new study from the Commonwealth Fund found. The report, which provides the "first comprehensive analysis" of the policies and statutes governing the collecting of health data, compiled interviews with administrators at federal health agencies, who expressed "widespread confusion" about the legality of collection information about the race and ethnicity of people served by their programs. Health administrators also had "concerns" regarding the misuse or misinterpretation of data, a lack of standards and technical difficulties using the data. Based on these findings, the study recommended that HHS "[e]nsure" that federally funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP collect and report information for their beneficiaries by race, ethnicity and primary language. Other recommendations to HHS include:
- Require new programs and block grants to report ethnic, racial and language data;
- Encourage private and public agencies to share such data to improve data collection;
- Notify insurers, providers and agencies that such data collection may be required by law;
- Provide states and providers with greater access to federally acquired data;
- Support research on improving data collection techniques.
The report also recommended that health plans should collect information on race and ethnicity as part of their HIPAA compliance efforts. One of the study's authors, Ruth Perot of the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, noted, "A commitment by HHS to ensure the collection and reporting of data necessary to support the goal of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities will require budgetary resources. In addition, HHS will need to supervise dissemination, implementation, and compliance with the policy" (Commonwealth Fund release, 10/18). The study is available at http://www.cmwf.org/programs/minority/perot_racialethnic_492.pdf.
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