HHS finalizes standards on health disparities

The Health and Human Services Department on Monday finalized new standards to track broad factors that affect people’s health.

The standards are part of HHS’s effort to reduce healthcare disparities — differences in health status and access to healthcare that stem from social, cultural and environmental issues.

HHS devised the new standards to provide more detailed information than what it has collected previously. The department cited, for example, differing rates of diabetes between Mexican-Americans and Cuban-Americans. By tracking health data on that level, rather than using catchall terms like “Hispanic,” HHS says it will be better able to address health disparities.

The standards announced Monday also include tobacco use, obesity, education level and exposure to secondhand smoke.

“It is our job to get a better understanding of why disparities occur and how to eliminate them,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “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.”

A study published this month in the journal Health Affairs found that private insurance companies are also doing a better job tracking health disparities. The number of health plans collecting racial and ethnic data more than doubled from 2003 to 2008, the study found.