Disparities in public use data availability for race, ethnic, and immigrant groups: national surveys for healthcare disparities research

Med Care. 2010 Dec;48(12):1122-7. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3181ef984e.


Background: Disparities in healthcare coverage and access have a prominent place on the national health policy agenda. It is, therefore, essential to understand strengths and limitations of national surveys that provide annual or periodic data for population-based healthcare disparities research and monitoring. Importantly, publicly available data on healthcare coverage and access are needed for disparities populations defined by race, ethnicity, or immigrant group (REI).

Objective: To document public use data availability for REI groups, insurance coverage, and access to care measures in selected national surveys used for healthcare disparities research.

Design: We examined public use data for general population surveys that collect information on healthcare coverage and access on an annual or periodic basis for the nation. Data sources examined include the following: Current Population Survey, Survey of Income and Program Participation, National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), National Health and Nutrition Examining Survey, National Survey of Children's Health, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and Medical Expenditure Panel Survey-Household Component.

Results: Although each survey has strengths for healthcare disparities research, there is no single survey that has detailed REI group identifiers, comprehensive measures of coverage and access, and geographic identifiers.

Conclusions: Current Population Survey and NHIS have detailed REI identifiers. NHIS and Medical Expenditure Panel Survey-Household Component have comprehensive measures of coverage and access but are limited by smaller samples and no geography. Findings summarized in this article will assist with identifying existing data to examine healthcare coverage and access disparities and highlight areas for improvement in public use data availability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Emigration and Immigration / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology