Valire Carr Copeland and Sandra Wexler
Despite technological advances and changes in healthcare delivery, some groups in the United States continue to have better health-related outcomes than others. This article discusses health disparities—differences in health status and healthcare utilization that are influenced by complex social structural, economic, and cultural factors. Illustrations are offered of health disparities found among diverse populations in this country. The “problem” with health disparities is then explored. From an ethical standpoint, health disparities can be seen as unjust. From a cost perspective, health disparities exact not just a financial toll that is borne by society, but individual, group, and community consequences, as well. From a human rights vantage, health disparities can further disadvantage people who are already vulnerable and marginalized—health disparities can cost people their lives. Factors contributing to health disparities, commonly referred to as social determinants, are reviewed. Finally, future directions, including social workers’ role as advocates, are considered.