Blues plans push OMB to collect more diverse data to back health equality efforts

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should upgrade its collection methods as well as broaden its scope in order to capture more granular data on underserved populations, which would be critical in addressing health disparities, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF).

The organizations note in a press release that OMB will commence a formal review to revise how federal agencies gather such information.

The existing policy was first introduced by OMB in 1977 and was last revised in 1997 to improve methods for collecting, maintaining and publicizing data on race and ethnicity. A lot has changed in 26 years, and those changes should be reflected in the revision, BCBSA and NMQF officials said.

“Data is more than numbers—it represents people,” Kim Keck, BCBSA’s CEO, said in the press release. “Our data must be as diverse and inclusive as our nation’s population. Standardized, precise data provides opportunities for insurers, health care providers and patient advocates to design and implement targeted health solutions to better meet the needs of disproportionately impacted communities. Through the adoption of comprehensive data collection standards, we can address health inequities head on and create a better system of health for all Americans.” 

Gary Puckrein, NMQF’s president and CEO, said that “high-quality, reliable data are essential to understanding where and how health disparities arise. Sufficiently collecting and exchanging data requires a multi-stakeholder approach and we look forward to working with players in the public and private sectors to establish a robust set of data standards and ultimately reduce health equities in the United States.”

They said that significant inequities exist in the U.S. when it comes to obtaining quality healthcare for racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and LGBTQ+ minorities. Eliminating those inequities will require modern methods and standards for the collection of data.

Specifically, the organizations want:

  • A minimum standard for the clear and consistent disaggregating of data according to race, ethnicity and language as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • An effort to obtain input from healthcare stakeholders about how to integrate sexual orientation and gender identity data collection and utilization.
  • Enforcement of the updated standards in government agencies as well as private health care payers and providers.

In unveiling the revision effort last summer, Karin Orvis, Ph.D., chief statistician of the U.S., said, “I understand the importance of moving quickly and with purpose. It is also important that we get this right.”

She promised that the updating process will be fully transparent, though “it will take the technical working group time to evaluate relevant research, engage in a meaningful way with the American public and all impacted agencies, and develop recommendations to send to me. Given the necessary steps, we have a goal of completing the revision no later than summer 2024.”