Access to Care

Striving for Equality in Medical Care Everywhere

Reducing disparities in health care

Recent studies have shown that despite the improvements in the overall health of the country, racial and ethnic minorities experience a lower quality of health care—they are less likely to receive routine medical care and face higher rates of morbidity and mortality than nonminorities.

The IOM report found that:

  • Disparities in health care exist and are associated with worse health outcomes.
  • Health care disparities occur in the context of broader inequality.
  • There are many sources across health systems, providers, patients and managers that contribute to disparities.
  • Bias, stereotyping, prejudice and clinical uncertainty contribute to disparities.
  • A small number of studies suggest that racial and ethnic minority patients are more likely to refuse treatment.


Although attention to racial/ethnic disparities in care has increased among policymakers, there is little consensus on what can or should be done to reduce these disparities. The U.S. Congress provided early leadership on the issue by legislatively mandating the IOM study on health care disparities, creating the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health, and requiring DHHS to produce the National Healthcare Disparities Report. This brief examines four broad policy areas for addressing racial and ethnic health care disparities:

  • Raising public and provider awareness of racial/ethnic disparities in care;
  • Expanding health insurance coverage;
  • Improving the capacity and number of providers in underserved communities; and
  • Increasing the knowledge base on causes and interventions to reduce disparities.

Davis, A.C., & Hager, C. (2001). Eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities: opportunities and challenges for the Commonwealth. Issue brief, 11, 1-26 .

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