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Study Provides National Snapshot of Health Disparities

United Health Foundation report provides pre-pandemic baseline for disparities

July 09, 2021

A new report from the United Health Foundation provides a comprehensive look at health disparities across the U.S., highlighting areas of progress and challenges to improve health for all Americans.

While the nation has improved in key areas—such as increasing health insurance coverage—other challenges persist, the report notes. The foundation evaluated data across 30 health-related measures and studied disparities by educational level, gender, geography, race and ethnicity across the U.S.

“Race and ethnicity, gender, geography, educational attainment, and income level should not limit one’s access to health care, or the determinants and outcomes that contribute to our overall well-being,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual for UnitedHealth Group.

Pennsylvania continues to see disparities in health status between those with less than a high school education and college graduates, and between Black and White populations for food insecurity, the report notes. The commonwealth recorded a 26 percent improvement in Black infant mortality between 2003-2006 and 2015-2018, going from 14.8 to 10.9 deaths (before age 1) per 1,000 live births.

Among the key national findings from the report: 

  • Health insurance:  The national rate of uninsured declined 37 percent from 2010-2014 to 2015-2019, but disparities persist along educational and racial lines. The uninsured rate was 3.5 times higher for those with only a high school degree than for college graduates, and three times higher among Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native populations than White populations
  • Infant mortality:  The U.S. is still working to close racial gaps in infant mortality. While the mortality rate for Black infants decreased 19 percent from 2003–2006 to 2015–2018, it was still 2.8 times higher than Asian/Pacific Islander infants
  • Mental health:  Adults with less than a high school education (17.6%) had a rate of frequent mental distress that was 123 percent higher than college graduates (7.9%) and women (23.9%) had a 70 percent higher rate of depression compared to men (14.1%) during 2017–2019
  • Chronic conditions:  The percentage of adults with multiple chronic conditions was six times higher for American Indian/Alaska Native adults (18.4%), four times higher for multiracial adults (14.1%) and three times higher for Black adults (10.7%) than for Asian/Pacific Islander adults (3.2%)

The report serves as a starting point for leaders at all levels, community advocates, and other organizations to come together to tackle these critical health disparities. An executive summary of the report is available online, as well as a state-by-state analysis.

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospitals continue to work together to improve the health of all Pennsylvanians and are dedicated to addressing the social determinants of health that influence population health outcomes. For more information, contact Robert Shipp III, PhD, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, HAP’s vice president, population health and clinical affairs.