Commentary by Aetna Foundation President Anne Beal is Part of Special Issue of Health Affairs Devoted to Health Disparities
Quality improvement methods in health care delivery for the entire population hold significant promise for eliminating America’s extensive and well-documented health disparities for people of color, says Anne C. Beal, M.D., M.P.H., president of the Aetna Foundation.
In an article published today in the October issue of Health Affairs, Beal cites the urgency of solving racial and ethnic health disparities as changing demographics transform what was once called “minority health status” into “U.S. health status.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of color will be the majority population by 2050.
“As this racial and ethnic transformation of the population occurs, costly preventable health conditions are becoming more prevalent,” writes Beal. “Hypertension, diabetes, and stroke are among a number of conditions that are more common among African Americans and Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites.” Over the next 10 years, the cost to treat the higher rates of disease among people of color is projected to cost approximately $337 billion.
Beal’s commentary is one of 22 articles published in a special issue of Health Affairs devoted in its entirety to health disparities. Entitled “Agenda for Fighting Disparities,” the issue features papers by leading health care researchers who explore the relationship of social and economic determinants, the role of specific environmental factors, and disparities in the quality of health care delivered at hospitals, among other topics. The issue was made possible with support from the Aetna Foundation.
Citing evidence of quality improvements that have simultaneously closed gaps in health outcomes, Beal makes the case for tackling disparities as a health care quality issue.
“The many articles in the October issue of Health Affairs,” says Beal, “demonstrate the powerful connection to quality improvement and targeting the varied root causes of disparities, be they at the individual, health system, community or societal level.”
Beal emphasizes that there is no magic bullet to create health equity. “Multiple interventions will surely be required to improve quality performance and narrow disparities, just as many different ‘micro-interventions’ are needed in any quality improvement process,” says Beal. “We also need to be mindful that successful actions for a specific health condition or in one geographical location may not be effective across the board. Different populations and different contexts require individualized solutions.”
Beal calls for a national focus on creating the highest quality of health care for all population groups to improve health outcomes, enhance patient experiences and lower health care costs for the nation.
Racial and ethnic health care equity is one of the Aetna Foundation’s three program areas. In 2010, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation awarded $1.24 million in research grants to address racial and ethnic disparities in health care.
About the Aetna Foundation
The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003. Our current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org.
About Health Affairs
Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically and health policy briefs published twice monthly at www.healthaffairs.org. You can also find the journal on Facebook and Twitter. Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download weekly Narrative Matters podcasts on iTunes.