A recent report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that racial and ethnic minority groups tend to receive a lower quality of health care than nonminorities, even when access-related factors such as income and insurance coverage are controlled. It concluded that the elimination of racial and ethnic health care disparities is a major challenge in the United States. Racial and ethnic minority groups identified by the federal government--American Indians or Alaska Natives, Asians, Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders--are expected to make up an increasingly large portion of the U.S. population in coming years. The federal government, primarily through programs under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), plays a major role in providing and financing health care for minority groups. HHS is also the primary federal entity involved in projects and research aimed at understanding and addressing disparities in health care. HHS has focused on racial and ethnic disparities in health access and outcomes in six areas: cancer screening and management, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV infection/AIDS, immunizations, and infant mortality. HHS offices and agencies, researchers at philanthropic foundations, and private organizations such as employers and health plans have efforts under way to try to address racial and ethnic disparities in health care, using interventions such as disease management programs, disease prevention programs, health literacy and language service projects, and education and outreach programs. Congress requested that we identify approaches that experts view as promising to address racial and ethnic disparities in health care.
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