The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is adapting new standards for health surveys; the changes will help eliminate differences in health care based on race, ethnicity, language or disability, according to an HHS statement.

“It is our job to get a better understanding of why disparities occur and how to eliminate them,” said HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today, through these new standards, we are providing a new set of powerful tools to help us achieve our vision of a nation free of disparities in health and health care.”

The new standards are a requirement of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. health care reform, which set forth new standards for collecting and reporting health care information. The new standards will result in more specific and consistent data, which can then be used to help identify individual health problems among ethnic groups.

For example, after eliminating the catchall groups of “Hispanic” or “Latino” and by adding specific categories of Mexican American, Cuban and Puerto Rican, a recent study found that the diabetes-related mortality rate for Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans was twice as high as the rate for Cuban Americans. This data will now allow health workers to create targeted programs for individual needs.

“Many racial and ethnic minorities, people with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, and other populations face unique health challenges, often have reduced access to health care and often pay the price with poorer health,” said HHS deputy assistant secretary for minority health Garth Graham, MD, MPH. “Today we are implementing an important provision of the Affordable Care Act that reinforces our commitment to reducing these health disparities.”