Monitoring disparities over time is complicated by the varying disparity definitions applied in the literature. This study used data from the 1996-2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to compare trends in disparities by three definitions of racial/ethnic disparities and to assess the influence of changes in socioeconomic status (SES) among racial/ethnic minorities on disparity trends. This study prefers the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) definition, which adjusts for health status but allows for mediation of racial/ethnic disparities through SES factors. Black-White disparities in having an office-based or outpatient visit and medical expenditure were roughly constant and Hispanic-White disparities increased for office-based or outpatient visits and for medical expenditure between 1996-1997 and 2004-2005. Estimates based on the independent effect of race/ethnicity were the most conservative accounting of disparities and disparity trends, underlining the importance of the role of SES mediation in the study of trends in disparities.
PMC ID: PMC2764787 (February 2009)