Health Center News

Community Health Centers: Addressing Health Disparities

NMHM13_posterEvery April the Office of Minority Health marks Minority Health Month to raise awareness of disparities in health care affecting minorities. This year’s theme, Advancing Health Equity Now: Uniting Our Communities to Bring Health Care Coverage to All, aims to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities with affordable access to care.

What are health disparities? Health disparities are differences in health outcomes linked to socioeconomic and environmental disadvantages. These disparities are propelled by the social conditions people encounter in everyday life and keep them from living potentially longer, healthier lives.  They also increase the burden on the health system. According to the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities:

  • There is a 33 year difference between the longest and shortest living groups in the US;
  • The cost of health disparities together with the cost of premature death in the US was $1.24 trillion between 2003 and 2006;
  • Although racial and ethnic minorities constitute one-third of the US population, they make up more than half of the 50 million uninsured people.

Tracking health disparities through a set of quality measures—like the percentage of patients who receive recommended care after suffering a heart attack—the 2011 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report found:

  • African Americans received worse care than Whites for 41% of quality measures;
  • Asians and American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) received worse care than Whites for about 30% of quality measures;
  • Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic Whites for 39% of measures;
  • African Americans had worse access to care than Whites for 32% of access measures;
  • Asians had worse access to care than Whites for 17% of access measures;
  • AI/ANs had worse access to care than Whites for 62% of access measures;
  • Hispanics struggled with getting access to care more than than non-Hispanic Whites for 63% of measures.

Located in high need areas and open to all regardless of ability to pay, Community Health Centers serve as a model for improving access to care and reducing health care disparities. In fact 72 percent of health center patients have family incomes at or below poverty. Yet, uninsured people who live near a health center are less likely to have an unmet medical need, less likely to visit the emergency room or have a hospital stay. In communities with a health center, there are lower infant mortality rates and, interestingly, disparities in health status do not exist among health center patients, even after controlling for socio-demographic factors. To learn more about health centers and their model of care, check out NACHC’s fact sheet.