2014 AHRQ Report: Making strides in access, coverage

The latest installment of the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report, a report sent to Congress on an annual basis as mandated by the American Healthcare Research and Quality Act (AHRQ), paints an optimistic picture of progress while acknowledging that efforts to reduce disparities must continue.

“[T]he nation has made clear progress in improving the health care delivery system to achieve the three aims of better care, smarter spending, and healthier people,” according to the report, “but there is still more work to do, specifically to address disparities in care.”

Perhaps the greatest strides outlined in the report came in the area of access, where uninsured rates among U.S. adults have fallen dramatically. “After years without improvement, the rate of uninsurance among adults ages 18-64 decreased substantially during the first half of 2014,” according to the report, which reported a drop in uninsured rates from 20 percent in 2013 to less than 16 percent through the first half of 2014, with rates continuing to fall throughout the year.

Progress was also made in healthcare quality, where a general increase in performance was seen in the available data, but with variance in improvement seen among different areas and measures. “Through 2012, across a broad spectrum of measures of health care quality, 60 percent showed improvement,” according to the report.

Disparities in access and quality were reported, however, which seemed to stratify most along economic and racial lines. “People in poor households had worse access to care than people in high-income households on all access measures,” the report read. “Disparities remained prevalent across a broad spectrum of quality measures. People in poor households experienced the largest number of disparities, followed by Blacks and Hispanics.”

Despite the progress and disparities, the process of upgrading our nation’s healthcare system on the basis of expanded access and increased quality is—and will continue to be—a work in progress. “The [report] documents the tremendous progress the nation has made toward the goal of high-quality health care that is accessible to all Americans and identifies areas of strength and weakness in the U.S. health care system,” according to the report. “Policymakers can use these findings to celebrate the success that has been achieved and to direct future efforts toward making health care more coordinated, affordable, and equitable.”