Aetna, Hartford, Conn., said it has begun collecting data on the racial and ethnic backgrounds of its 14 million members in an effort to narrow the gap in medical treatment between whites and minorities. Few other insurers have made similar efforts because of the sensitivity of the issue, which raises questions about privacy and racial profiling. Federal statistics show that minorities tend to receive lower-quality care for a wide range of medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and low birth-weight. Aetna said it hoped to develop prevention and treatment programs to address those disparities and stressed that it would not use the information to limit coverage based on race. The company is asking new members or those changing health plans to voluntarily specify their race or ethnicity on their applications. About 80% of the 64,000 applicants who have been asked for the information so far have given it, officials said. Aetna began the effort in 13 states and the District of Columbia last September. It will add four other states by the end of the month and plans eventually to seek data from its entire membership. -- by Laura B. Benko
Aetna collects data in hopes of narrowing racial gap
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