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Health Disparities in the U.S. Remain 'Unacceptably High'

Analysis  |  By Amanda Schiavo  
   May 18, 2023

Racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. economy $451 billion in 2018.

The toll of health disparities in the United States limits access to care for certain groups and has a significant financial impact at the state and national levels.

Research from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, found that this economic burden remains "unacceptably high." The study found that in 2018, racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. economy $451 billion, a 41% increase from the previous estimate of $320 billion in 2014. The NIMHD research also noted that the burden of education-related health disparities for people without a college degree in 2018 hit $978 billion, which is nearly two times greater than the annual growth rate of the economy that same year.

"The exorbitant cost of health disparities is diminishing U.S. economic potential," NIMHD Director Eliseo Pérez-Stable said in the report. "We have a clear call to action to address social and structural factors that negatively impact not only population health but also economic growth."

The research found that 69% of the burden of racial and ethnic disparities was shouldered by the Black and African American community because of the high level of premature mortality. The study also found Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives populations had the highest economic burden per person.

The NIMHD study showed that Five states with the highest burden of racial and ethnic health inequities were among the most populous and diverse states: Texas ($41 billion), California ($40 billion), Illinois ($29 billion), Florida ($27 billion), and Georgia ($21 billion). 

From an education point of view, the study highlighted that adults with a high school diploma had the highest burden per person. The majority of this burden was felt by adults with a high school diploma or GED.

The researchers recognized the significant economic impact of racial, ethnic, and education-related health disparities on patients, but noted that there are steps that can be taken to eliminate this burden through investments in initiatives that tackle barriers to healthcare including racism and socioeconomic inequalities. The researchers are also calling on policymakers on the state and federal levels to use their data to make changes in areas where health inequities are highest.

"The results of this study demonstrate that health inequity represents not just unfair and unequal health outcomes, but it also has a significant financial cost," lead author Thomas LaVeist, Ph.D., dean of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in the report. "While it surely will cost to address health inequities, there are also substantial costs associated with not addressing them. Health inequities is a social justice issue, but it is also an economic issue."

Amanda Schiavo is the Finance Editor for HealthLeaders.

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