NU Online News Service, June 2, 2004, 6:22 p.m. EDT, Washington – More health insurers are collecting data on the race and ethnicity of their insureds.[@@]

Collecting that information is an essential step toward addressing gaps in care, according to a new study conducted by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J.

Researchers working on the study received survey responses from 137 health plans and found that 53.5% of enrollees are covered by health insurers that collect data on race and ethnicity.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says the goal of the study is to help reduce the disparity in treatment faced by minority groups.

She notes that recent studies have shown that there is an overall problem with quality of health care. Indeed, Lavizzo-Mourey says, 50% of the time patients fail to receive the type of care that the experts who translate scientific research into recommendations say they should receive.

Studies show that racial and ethnic minorities receive an even lower standard of care, Lavizzo-Mourey says.

Collecting data on race and ethnicity is a very sensitive matter, but doing so will help the nation commit itself to improving the quality of care, Lavizzo-Mourey says.

AHIP President Karen Ignagni says that once the reasons for collecting the data are explained, patients are far more comfortable with questions about race and ethnicity. But she says patients still need assurances that the information will not be misused.

She notes that the health plans that collect racial and ethnic data do so primarily to identify and reach out to individuals with risk factors for certain health conditions who may benefit from disease management programs.

In addition, Ignagni says, these plans also want to reach out to certain populations.

She says that health care literature is full of discussions about the nature of the problem of racial and ethnic gaps in health care but is very thin on solutions.

AHIP wants to contribute to the effort of shifting the focus to solutions, Ignagni says.

“AHIP intends to serve as a hub for exchanging information on what is working to overcome gaps in care experienced by minorities in our health care system” she says.

Ignagni says that to best retrieve this type of information, the system needs a common language as well as standards on how to obtain the information.

Moreover, she says, the issue of gaps in minority health care must be tied to the broader issue of health care quality.

“We must bring everyone up to best practices,” Ignagni says.