Lack of Data Hurts Women

To fully identify and address the health disparities that we know exist among women, we must have accurate and complete data on health consumer demographics—including language status, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and income—and the different health outcomes that these consumers experience. From its inception, the Women’s Health Report Card has, whenever possible, examined data by race and ethnicity in order to highlight differences between groups of women. Consider the chart below, which provides examples of the race and ethnicity data that is available (or unavailable, as the case may be) for the 2010 Report Card. When this type of is exists—as it does for indicators of health insurance coverage, Pap tests, and Coronary Heart Disease death rates—it can be compared and evidence of disparities can then be used to inform policies aimed at creating health equity. But if data is lacking—as it is for indicators of life expectancy or women with Chlamydia—it is much more difficult to identify and work towards eliminating health disparities.

National Race/Ethnicity Health Status Data from the 2010 Health Report Card

Indicator Total White Black Hispanic American
Women without health insurance (%)
Benchmark: 100% with coverage
19.9 16.7 22.5 36.5 33.3 19.3
Women receiving a pap test in the past 3 years (%)
Benchmark: 90% 
78.0 81.2 84.0 80.7 74.6 73.3

Coronary Heart Disease death rate (per 100,000 women)
Benchmark: 72.8 deaths per 100,000 

118.9 115.9 159.7 97.8 83.4 68.0
Life Expectancy (years)
Benchmark: 82.9 years
78.8 79.5 73.70 -- -- --
Women with Chlamydia (%)
Benchmark: 3% 
7.4 -- -- -- -- --


Data on race and other demographic factors is crucial and there are still far too many instances in which it is simply unavailable. For example, the 2010 Report Card lacks complete data on race1 for 11 of our 34 national status indicators, including those that measure people in medically underserved areas, maternal mortality, and mental health. It is even harder to obtain data on the state level, where complete race data is lacking for 33 out of 34 status indicators. The amount and quality of data also varies by race. Data on women who are American Indian/Alaskan Native or Asian/Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander is especially lacking—in the 2010 Report Card, data is not available for these groups nearly 60% of the time.

The new health care law—the “Affordable Care Act”—provides opportunities for improved data collection, with the goal of identifying and eliminating health disparities among all populations. The law requires that data on patients’ race, ethnicity, sex, and primary language be collected for all federally supported and public health care programs. It specifies that this data should be collected on the smallest geographic level possible, be sufficient for useful analysis, and be made available to federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the public. However, the law does not appropriate funding for this provision. In fact, it prohibits data from being collected until funding has been appropriated. Given how important this provision is to understanding and eliminating health disparities, and to improving women’s health, it is necessary for Congress to act to ensure data collection is fully funded. 

1 “Complete” race data signifies data disaggregated into the following race categories: White, Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Asian/Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

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