HHS aims for racial equity in healthcare

The Department of Health and Human Services plans to study the causes of racial inequities in healthcare delivery, to improve its hiring of minority staff and beef up its translation services for minority communities--all in an effort to bridge gaps in health outcomes between whites and minority groups, HHS officials revealed yesterday.

The first hurdle: Understanding the reasons for health inequities, such as the fact that a black male's average life expectancy is six years shorter than a white male's, according to HHS statistics. Officials say they also want a better grasp of why many minority communities have higher incidences of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

For its own part, HHS says it will recruit more employees from "underserved communities" into public health and biomedical science jobs. Officials also are counting on health reform's expanded health coverage to benefit "minority populations [because they] overwhelmingly make up the ranks of the uninsured," says Garth Graham, a physician and HHS deputy assistant secretary for minority health.

The agency is modeling its program on the Department of Veterans Affairs' Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion (CHERP), a ten-year-old program that HHS officials say has helped reduce racial disparities in hypertension and other conditions among minority veterans.

Not much detail yet on exactly how HHS will implement its mission, but officials say there are annual reviews built into the new program to evaluate its progress over time.

To learn more:
- check out the HHS website
- read an interview with HHS officials in Kaiser Health News