In an effort to improve its ability to highlight disparities in health status and target interventions to reduce them, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced final standards to more consistently measure race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, and disability status yesterday.
“It is our job to get a better understanding of why disparities occur and how to eliminate them. Improving the breadth and quality of our data collection and analysis on key areas, like race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status, is critical to better understanding who we are serving,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
To comply with the Affordable Care Act requirements, all HHS-sponsored health surveys will now have “Mexican American and Chicano/a, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Hispanic Latino/a or Spanish origin” as explicit categories. The changes will make data standards more consistent, which will help identify the significant health differences that often exist between and within ethnic groups, according to HHS.
“For example, a study showed that the diabetes-related mortality rate for Mexican Americans (251 per 100, 000) and Puerto Ricans (204 deaths per 100, 000) was twice as high as the diabetes-related mortality rate for Cuban Americans (101 deaths per 100, 000). However, this information would have remained unknown if only the umbrella terms of “Hispanic” or “Latino” had been used,” the department says.
In turn, the new data collection requirements will help with the implementation of more appropriate targeted interventions at all levels of government and service provision, and improve researchers’ ability to monitor greater dimensions of health disparities among people with disabilities.
Garth Graham, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, believes the implementation of these new standards will help carry forward the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, which was launched in April of this year.
“Many racial and ethnic minorities, people with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, and other populations face unique health challenges, often have reduced access to health care and often pay the price with poorer health,” said Graham.
The standards went into effect yesterday.
“Today, through these new standards, we are providing a new set of powerful tools to help us achieve our vision of a nation free of disparities in health and health care.” Sec. Sebelius said.