Disparities Initiatives by Major Industry Organizations

Summary Report of Major Activities in the Field of Health Disparities by Leading Health Policy Stakeholders and Clinical Organizations

The following provides a list of major organizations involved in the field of health disparities. Included with each organization is a brief summary of each organization's activities and involvement in the field.  

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

AHRQ annually produces the National Healthcare Disparities Report. In addition to the annual report, AHRQ provides community information in the form of state snapshots for state and local policymakers. AHRQ engages in a number of partnerships including the National Health Plan Consortium, and partnerships with various state and local governments and coalitions. AHRQ has a strong focus on asthma and diabetes.  

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
AHIP works to provide technical support to insurance companies and health plans in regard to the field of health disparities. AHIP's focus is four phases: collection of race, ethnic, and language data; cultural competency training; providing a clearinghouse for quality improvement activities; and development of communications to address growing diversity within the population. In addition, AHIP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have produced a survey to assess the progress made by health plans in the collection of race, ethnicity, and language data. In 2006, AHIP also released a health disparities resource compendium titled Communications Resources to Close the Gap to provide tools and support for health plans, physicians and health care organizations.

American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
These various organizations provide information with a focus on given racial and ethnic groups. Many of the organizations have Spanish language pages. The American Diabetes Association has separate web pages that focus on African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians. In addition, these organizations develop and conduct a number of long-term grass roots or community-based health education programs targeting the minority population. Examples include the AHA's Search Your Heart (African American)/Conozca Su Corazon (Latino) Programs, and ACS' Body and Soul Program (African American).  

American Medical Association (AMA)
The AMA has sought to address health disparities through activities in science, ethics, and physician education. The AMA has engaged in a number of partnerships to raise awareness of health disparities. Partner groups include the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the AMA Foundation, and the National Medical Association. In addition, the AMA has developed Educating Physicians on Controversies in Health (EpoCH), a series of streaming Web programs aimed at education primary care physicians.  

Centers for Disease Control
The CDC established an internal Office of Minority Health in 1988. This office has provided data to Congress, assisted in conferences, and coordinated leadership activities and the development of infrastructure within the CDC to address health disparities. See more under the entry for Office of Minority Health.  

Commonwealth Fund
The Commonwealth Fund has developed a program on quality care for underserved populations. This program's focus is on enhancing current knowledge on health disparities, identifying methods to improve care for underserved populations, evaluating the effectiveness of quality improvement programs, and working to get the results of quality improvement incorporated into better policies and practices. Other projects from the Commonwealth Fund include quality monitoring and reporting, quality improvement in underserved settings, improvements in communication for non-English speakers and those with low health literacy, improvements in cultural competency, and dissemination of knowledge. Finally, the Commonwealth Fund in cooperation with Harvard University has developed a one-year full time fellowship program designed to create physician-leaders to work in the field of minority health and health policy.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
HHS was responsible for the development of the Healthy People 2010 report/directive, which includes a goal to eliminate all health disparities by 2010. Disparities focus areas in Healthy People 2010 include infant mortality, cancer screening and management, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/aids, and immunizations.  

Families USA
Health disparity was one of the main topics at the recent 2007 Summit held by Families USA. This conference approached disparities from the point of view of government policy and was attended by a number of government leaders and presidential candidates. In addition, Families USA has put in place the Minority Health Initiative program to raise awareness, engage and train community leaders, and to analyze the impact of health policies on minority access.

Institute of Medicine (IOM)

In 1999, Congress requested that the IOM assess the extent of health disparities in the United States. The result of this assessment is Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare. This publication serves as one of the key documents in the field of health disparities. Following the publication of Unequal Treatment, the IOM has had an ongoing focus on four key messages: increasing awareness, promoting consistency and equity of care that relies on “evidence-based” guidelines that allow providers to base decisions on the best available science, strengthening cultural competency, and improving the diversity of the healthcare workforce. The IOM has taken four key actions to achieve progress on these four messages. These actions are documentation of the problem, setting research priorities, becoming the one stop source for information on health disparities, and the establishment of a roundtable on health disparities to identify and share key practices, to develop and promote effective strategies, to highlight key drivers of disparities, and to bring together stakeholders to address the problem of health disparities.

Kaiser Family Foundation
The Kaiser Family Foundation works to reduce disparities in health care access, quality research, and media and public education activities. The Foundation places a major focus on addressing disparities among American Indians and Alaska Natives including a fellowship for mid-career minority health professionals. In addition, the Foundation sponsors the Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars Program, which provides minority students with an opportunity to work in congressional offices on health policy topics.

National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA)
NCQA in association with the California Endowment has initiated an award program to identify and reward best practices among health plans in the field of health disparities. A $1.5 million grant from the California Endowment will be put to use in disseminating and educating other plans on these best practices. A similar program has been established for providers.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
As mandated by the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000, the NIH established the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHHD). The stated goals of the NCMHHD are research, the development of a research infrastructure, and public information and outreach. The NIH works to provide research grants and education funding in the field of health disparities.

National Medical Association (NMA)
The goal of the NMA is to promote the interests of physicians and patients of African descent. In 2004, the NMA established the Cobb Institute whose focus is on health disparities. The initial focus of the Cobb Institute is on premature deaths and disabilities among minorities due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and asthma. Improvement activities include research, and identification of best practices.

National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA)
The NHMA has focused on leadership development and networking among health leaders in the public and private sector in order to promote health policy. In addition, the NHMA has worked to collect information from Hispanic doctors concerning various topics including cultural competency, language services, and strategies for Hispanics without insurance.

Office of Minority Health (OMH)
The OMH has utilized a community focus to address health disparities. The OMH focuses on partnerships with state, Regional Action Councils, and other partners. In addition, the OMH has worked on the National Action Agenda spawned from the National Leadership Summit. The OMH has also developed the standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS). CLAS standards provide a baseline and in some cases requirements for cultural and linguistic services within the health care industry. As mandated by law, the OMH has established the Center for Linguistic and Cultural Competence in Healthcare. The Center's main purpose is to increase access of healthcare delivery to persons with limited English proficiency.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides funding for research into health disparities, conducts demonstrations for hospitals and health plans on the topic, and sponsors a leadership program with a focus on communicating results and promoting change. The Foundation has a principal focus on cardiac and diabetes care.

State Sponsored Health Services Offices and Programs
Many state health agencies provide programs and offices with a focus on minority health. Of particular note is the Virginia Office of Minority whose programs have included the development of the CLAS Act resources website that provides information for various minority groups. The California Office of Multicultural Health provides strategic planning, policy analysis, communications, training, and assistance in obtaining funding for minority health issues. Texas has established the Office for the Elimination of Health Disparities, which has a number of focuses including a Health Disparities Task Force, and a project focused on electronic health records. Finally, the New York Office of Minority Health provides grant allocations for various projects and partnerships and supports community training and advocacy.