a number of areas, which are delineated in this paper. Barriers, however, do exist—collection is not consistent across the industry and often fragmented—which make it difficult to evaluate the quality of such data and subsequently determine solutions to advance culturally competent care. Even so, some strong examples of data collection and related innovative strategies for use are emerging.

To date, several organizations, notably the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Commonwealth Fund, and the National Quality Forum, have identified many uses for the collection of data on race and ethnicity. They include:

  • Understanding the scope of health disparities affecting health plan members and stimulating action.

  • Identifying and tracking similarities and differences in performance and quality of care in various geographic, cultural, and ethnic communities.

  • Revealing socioeconomic and other demographic characteristics that contribute to differing proportions of disparities.

  • Creating and using reports that focus on quality of care issues for minority group patients.

  • Understanding etiologic processes and identification of points of intervention.

  • Designing targeted quality improvement activities.

  • Facilitating the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate health care.

Health plans view the collection of data on the race and ethnicity of their members as having great utility in a number of areas, such as evaluating the differences in care being received by plan members; designing culturally appropriate educational and other member communications; and implementing clinical and service quality improvement activities.

What follows is a description of interviews conducted across a sample of AAHP’s1 member health plans, assessing their efforts to collect racial and ethnic data; offering examples of some current and potential methods of collection; identifying real and perceived barriers to data collection; and detailing the usefulness of such data for health plan programs.


The American Association of Health Plans (AAHP), now known as AHIP, was asked by the National Research Council of the National Acad-


AAHP merged with the Health Insurance Association of America in November 2003; the new organization is called the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

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