Health Disparities

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APA wants to increase support for research, training, public education and interventions that improve health and reduce health disparities among underserved and vulnerable populations.

What Are Health Disparities?

Health disparities are preventable, adverse differences in health experienced by socially disadvantaged populations in comparison to more advantaged populations. Not every health difference is a health disparity.

Health disparities are caused by persistent, systematic, unjust policies and practices that increase a group’s risk for poorer health and limit access to quality care. Health disparities are a social justice issue that can best be eliminated through system level actions. Health disparities can lead to vulnerable populations living sicker, shorter, more stressful and less productive lives.

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Who Is Affected?

Groups who experience health disparities include:

Racial and Ethnic Groups, Sexual and Gender Minorities, Individuals of Low Socioeconomic Status, Individuals with Disabilities, and Rural Populations.

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Common Health Disparities

Conditions in which there are health disparities include:

Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Smoking, Obesity, Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke, and Infant Mortality.

Examples of Health Disparities

Racial and ethnic health disparities alone cost the U.S. an estimated $1.24 trillion between 2003 and 2006.
African Americans & HIV

African-Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS, compared to other races/ethnicities. In 2015, African Americans accounted for 45 percent of HIV diagnoses, though they comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population.

Native Americans & Diabetes

Native Americans (American Indians and Alaska Natives) have a greater chance of having diabetes than any other US racial group and the highest rate of diabetes related kidney failure.

Sexual Minority Youth & Suicide

Suicide risk is greater for youth who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual.

Rural Populations & Secondhand Smoking

Rural Americans are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke and less likely to have access to programs that help them quit smoking.

Funding Research Can Help Eliminate Health Disparities

APA advocates for sustained and sufficient federal funding for research into preventing and eliminating health disparities, including:

Maintaining the Prevention and Public Health Fund, part of the Affordable Care Act

The fund is the nation's only dedicated funding stream for improving public health.

Inclusion of Groups Affected by Health Disparities in Federal Data Collection Standards

Such as uniform collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data across federal agencies.

Sustained Investments in National Institutes of Health Research

Including HIV research.

Prevention Efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Emerging Issues

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Take Action Now

Recent APA Advocacy on Health Disparities

January 2017

APA and Partners Fight to Protect Investments in Prevention Funding

In a Jan. 9, 2017, letter (PDF, 73KB), APA joined over 200 organizations in urging congressional leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Speaker Paul Ryan, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, to protect the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Prevention Fund is at risk of repeal as a part of the larger effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This fund provides federal dollars to be used towards services and public health activities such as cancer screenings, chronic disease prevention, epidemiology and laboratory capacity grants, and more. Eliminating these resources would leave a funding gap for essential public health programs supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and could also result in deep cuts for other critical federal programs.

October 2016

APA Applauds Continued Efforts by NIH to Advance Sexual and Gender Minority Health Research

On Oct. 6, 2016, the director of the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), Eliseo Pérez-Stable, MD, announced the formal designation of sexual and gender minorities (SGMs) as a health disparity population for NIH research. Experts agree that additional research is essential to better understand the health inequities faced by SGM populations.

The new designation will:

  • Encourage an additional focus on the health inequalities in SGM communities.
  • Promote a coordinated approach to research, which has previously been applied to other health disparity populations.
  • Help elevate the SGM health research field to an even greater level of priority across research institutions and in the Federal government.
  • Provide legitimacy to students and early-career investigators who previously have not focused on SGM health.
August 2016

APA Encourages Guidance to State Units on Aging to Prioritize Older Populations with Mental Illness and Sexual Minority Populations

APA submitted comments on Aug. 19, 2016, (PDF, 317KB) in response to the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living (ACL) program instruction. This proposed template would provide guidance regarding the obligation of State Units on Aging to target resources to older adult populations that have the “greatest economic and social need.” Specifically, APA's comments advocated assessing the needs of older populations with: 

  • Mental health concerns
  • Substance disorders
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Diverse sexual orientations and gender identities
July 2016

APA Joins With National Organizations to Endorse LGBT Data Collection Bill

In July 2016, APA endorsed the LGBT Data Inclusion Act (PDF, 158KB), a bill that would require uniform collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data across federal agencies. While some federal data on the LGBT community has previously been collected, there is no requirement in law ensuring that federal agencies collect such information.

APA’s support for this new legislation aligns with its past advocacy to advance sexual and gender minorities’ research. In February 2016, the association adopted a resolution calling for improved data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in federally funded, population-based surveys and research studies. The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and 31 prominent organizations have endorsed the LGBT Data Inclusion Act (H.R. 5373/S. 3134).

June 2016

APA Supports Health Equity Legislation Introduced in the House of Representatives

APA sent a June 15, 2016, letter (PDF, 353KB) of support for H.R. 5475, the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2016. The letter was sent to the legislation's lead sponsors and leadership of the Congressional Tri-Caucus. HEAA of 2016 builds on the Affordable Care Act's efforts to address health disparities by providing federal resources, strengthening infrastructure, and creating a favorable policy environment to advance health equity. The bill would guide federal efforts to eliminate health disparities stemming from race, ethnicity, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, English proficiency and environment.

March 2016

APA Calls for Financial Investment and Need for New Behavioral and Social Science Research

On March 1, 2016, APA sent a letter to President Obama (PDF, 318KB) calling for sustained investments in National Institutes of Health HIV research, along with a renewed commitment to HIV behavioral and social science research. The letter offered recommendations to ensure robust funding for HIV/AIDS research in the 2017 federal fiscal year and greater inclusion of the behavioral and social sciences — including psychology — in the research enterprise.
December 2015

Federal Agencies and Congress Advance APA HIV/AIDS Priorities

On Dec. 1, 2015, World AIDS Day, the Obama administration released its Federal Action Plan (PDF, 580KB) to implement its updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) (PDF, 2.17MB). The Federal Action Plan details federal agencies’ activities for the next five years to achieve the goals of the updated NHAS. In June 2015, APA welcomed the release of the updated NHAS, which provides a strategic framework for the nation’s HIV/AIDS programs and policies for the next five years. APA submitted recommendations (PDF, 320KB) on Oct. 10, 2015, for the Federal Action Plans and has tracked NHAS implementation since 2010.

November 2015

Mental Health Organizations Support Health Disparities Legislation

Sixteen mental health organizations sent a Nov. 13, 2015, letter (PDF, 58KB) of support to Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., on H.R. 3285 — Reducing Disparities Using Care Models and Education Act of 2015 (ReDUCE Act). APA, which organized the sign-on effort, also sent the letter to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health.

This legislation would enable urgently needed research and funding to identify and implement best practices for reducing both physical and mental health disparities. It would:

  • Direct the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to produce a report detailing the extent of factors contributing to health disparities in our nation, as well as identifying opportunities to improve health outcomes.
  • Provide funding for organizations to implement effective programs and strategies in reducing health disparities identified by the IOM.
  • Authorize the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services to test payment and service delivery models that incentivize reductions in targeted health care disparities.


November 2015

APA Comments on NIH Plan to Advance Sexual and Gender Minorities Research

On Nov. 2, 2015, APA responded (PDF, 350KB) to a request for comments on the National Institute of Health (NIH) 2016-2020 Strategic Plan to Advance Research on the Health and Well-being of Sexual and Gender Minorities (SGM) (PDF, 2MB). The association noted gratefully that the NIH SGM strategic plan addressed several previous APA recommendations and that the plan provides a thoughtful approach for advancing SGM research over the next five years.

APA also urged NIH to clarify how priority research areas align with the 2011 IOM LGBT report (PDF, 930KB) and a recent NIH analysis of its SGM research portfolio. The following priorities were also identified:

  • Strengthen partnerships with behavioral and social science research communities.
  • Increase investment in community based participatory research.
  • Funds more research through current funding opportunity announcements.
June 2015

APA Participates in Division 9 Legislative Conference

APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office staff led two sessions at the June 20-21, 2015, policy-focused meeting of Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues). Nearly 170 psychologists attended the conference. PI-GRO staff conducted an advocacy training to prepare the group for visits with their members of Congress. PI-GRO and APA’s Health Disparities Initiative also convened a collaborative discussion session, “Advocating for Underserved Boys and Men: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies.” The presentation focused on the recent work of APA’s working group and expert meeting on health disparities among boys and men of color, as well as related policies in Congress and the administration.

April 2014

Psychologists Support Legislation to Fight HIV Discrimination

APA sent letters of support (PDF, 87KB) and mobilized its members to urge their senators to co-sponsor the Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (REPEAL) HIV Discrimination (S. 1790). Introduced by Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., this important legislation addresses the serious problem of federal, state and local laws that criminalize certain actions by HIV-positive persons. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., introduced the bill (H.R. 1843) with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives in May 2013. The legislation aims to reform current HIV criminalization statutes, which undermines health initiatives focused on screening, prevention and treatment.

August 2012

APA Staff Moderates Discussion of Behavioral Health and HIV Prevention

On Aug. 2, 2012, Leo Rennie of APA’s Government Relations Office moderated a panel discussion addressing the impact of behavioral health and HIV prevention on public health. The session was part of a Health and Human Services (HHS) regional meeting on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), behavioral health and HIV prevention, and federal initiatives in support of the NHAS. Panelists described best practice programs in Philadelphia, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., and explored integration of behavioral health and HIV prevention in community settings. Rennie highlighted the APA resolution on Combination Biomedical and Behavioral Approaches to Optimize HIV Prevention, explaining its implications for frontline service providers now grappling with emerging biomedical HIV prevention options, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), microbicides and treatment as prevention. Rennie also discussed policy considerations, including recommendations to federal agencies and Congress to promote integration of HIV prevention and behavioral health, as well as to foster a robust research agenda in this area.  

Psychologist, Marc D. Richman, PhD, former president of the Delaware Psychological Association and assistant director for community mental health and addictions services for the state of Delaware, also served on the panel.

Health disparities are a social justice issue that can best be eliminated through system level actions.

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Leo Rennie
Senior Legislative & Federal Affairs Officer, Public Interest Directorate

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About APA Advocacy

APA represents the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology at the federal level. There are three APA government relations offices and two APA-affiliated organizations that engage in government relations activities. 

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