The economic burden of racial, ethnic, and educational health inequities in the US

Individual Author(s) / Organizational Author
LaVeist, Thomas
Perez-Stable, Eliseo
Richard, Patrick
JAMA Network
May 2023
Abstract / Description

Importance: Health inequities exist for racial and ethnic minorities and persons with lower educational attainment due to differential exposure to economic, social, structural, and environmental health risks and limited access to health care.

Objective: To estimate the economic burden of health inequities for racial and ethnic minority populations (American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Latino, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander) and adults 25 years and older with less than a 4-year college degree in the US. Outcomes include the sum of excess medical care expenditures, lost labor market productivity, and the value of excess premature death (younger than 78 years) by race and ethnicity and the highest level of educational attainment compared with health equity goals.

Evidence Review: Analysis of 2016-2019 data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) and state-level Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and 2016-2018 mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System and 2018 IPUMS American Community Survey. There were 87 855 survey respondents to MEPS, 1 792 023 survey respondents to the BRFSS, and 8 416 203 death records from the National Vital Statistics System.

Findings: In 2018, the estimated economic burden of racial and ethnic health inequities was $421 billion (using MEPS) or $451 billion (using BRFSS data) and the estimated burden of education-related health inequities was $940 billion (using MEPS) or $978 billion (using BRFSS). Most of the economic burden was attributable to the poor health of the Black population; however, the burden attributable to American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander populations was disproportionately greater than their share of the population. Most of the education-related economic burden was incurred by adults with a high school diploma or General Educational Development equivalency credential. However, adults with less than a high school diploma accounted for a disproportionate share of the burden. Although they make up only 9% of the population, they bore 26% of the costs.

Conclusions and Relevance: The economic burden of racial and ethnic and educational health inequities is unacceptably high. Federal, state, and local policy makers should continue to invest resources to develop research, policies, and practices to eliminate health inequities in the US. (author abstract)

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