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Health disparities persist despite quality improvements

Despite slow but steady improvements in the quality of health care nationwide, closing disparities in care for minorities and low-income residents continues to be a challenge, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Overall, there were improvements in about two-thirds of 179 health care quality measures tracked by the federal government in the AHRQ's 2010 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports. But only 30% of 22 measures of access to care showed improvement, while 30% remained stagnant and 40% showed declines. "Every American should have access to high-quality, appropriate and safe health care," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD. "We need to increase our efforts to achieve that goal because our slow progress is not acceptable." The reports, released June 1, show that blacks had worse access to care than whites for one-third of six core measures, such as having a usual primary care physician and insurance coverage. Hispanics had worse a ...

Most uninsured hospital stays go unpaid

Washington -- Hundreds of thousands of Americans without health insurance have racked up tens of billions of dollars annually in hospital bills that they cannot pay, according to a Dept. of Health and Human Services report. In 2008, hospitals had 2.1 million hospitalizations of uninsured people. About 1.2 million, or 58%, ended up with hospital bills in excess of $10,000. Hospitalizations with costs of more than $100,000 accounted for 6% of uninsured hospital stays. There's no truth to the assertion that people without health insurance can get care with no problem, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a May 10 statement accompanying the release of the study. Uninsured families cannot pay the full hospital admission bills 95% of the time, because they lack enough money in individual savings accounts. "The result is families going without care or facing health care bills they can't hope to pay," Sebelius said. "When the uninsured cannot afford the care they receive, that cost ...

With asthma more prevalent, study calls for better patient education

Educating patients with asthma about how to manage the chronic respiratory condition and avoid exposure to irritants could improve the health of this growing group of Americans, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma prevalence increased 12.3% in the United States between 2001 and 2009, according to a study published May 6 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. More than 24 million Americans had the disease in 2009. But nearly one in three has not been taught how to respond to an asthma attack, the study said. "The best thing for providers is to take time to explain to patients how to take care of the disease, how to use the medication prescribed and when to call [a physician]," said Hatice Zahran, MD, MPH, co-author of the study and a CDC epidemiologist. "Physicians should not just give [patients] a prescription and let them go. They should take time and explain to patients how they can manage their disease." The study authors recommend that ...