Importance: The elimination of racial and ethnic differences in health status and health care access is a US goal, but it is unclear whether the country has made progress over the last 2 decades.
Objective: To determine 20-year trends in the racial and ethnic differences in self-reported measures of health status and health care access and affordability among adults in the US.
Design, setting, and participants: Serial cross-sectional study of National Health Interview Survey data, 1999-2018, that included 596 355 adults.
Exposures: Self-reported race, ethnicity, and income level.
Main outcomes and measures: Rates and racial and ethnic differences in self-reported health status and health care access and affordability.
Results: The study included 596 355 adults (mean [SE] age, 46.2 [0.07] years, 51.8% [SE, 0.10] women), of whom 4.7% were Asian, 11.8% were Black, 13.8% were Latino/Hispanic, and 69.7% were White. The estimated percentages of people with low income were 28.2%, 46.1%, 51.5%, and 23.9% among Asian, Black, Latino/Hispanic, and White individuals, respectively. Black individuals with low income had the highest estimated prevalence of poor or fair health status (29.1% [95% CI, 26.5%-31.7%] in 1999 and 24.9% [95% CI, 21.8%-28.3%] in 2018), while White individuals with middle and high income had the lowest (6.4% [95% CI, 5.9%-6.8%] in 1999 and 6.3% [95% CI, 5.8%-6.7%] in 2018). Black individuals had a significantly higher estimated prevalence of poor or fair health status than White individuals in 1999, regardless of income strata (P < .001 for the overall and low-income groups; P = .03 for middle and high-income group). From 1999 to 2018, racial and ethnic gaps in poor or fair health status did not change significantly, with or without income stratification, except for a significant decrease in the difference between White and Black individuals with low income (-6.7 percentage points [95% CI, -11.3 to -2.0]; P = .005); the difference in 2018 was no longer statistically significant (P = .13). Black and White individuals had the highest levels of self-reported functional limitations, which increased significantly among all groups over time. There were significant reductions in the racial and ethnic differences in some self-reported measures of health care access, but not affordability, with and without income stratification.
Conclusions and relevance: In a serial cross-sectional survey study of US adults from 1999 to 2018, racial and ethnic differences in self-reported health status, access, and affordability improved in some subgroups, but largely persisted.