ACP: Recently Proposed Changes to Race and Ethnicity Standards Will Have Important Impact on Research and Data Collection

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The Office of Management and Budget is proposing an update to the Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards to expand the number of categories and make them more specific

June 2, 2023 (ACP) — The American College of Physicians supports a recently proposed update to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards as a first step in resolving concerns around the use of broad racial and ethnic categories in research and federal data collection.

In an April 7 letter to the OMB director, ACP says that Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards play an important role in data collection related to health. “The College applauds the Agency for undertaking such action and urges final adoption of a proposal that makes federal data collection efforts more accurate and inclusive to those of all backgrounds,” wrote Dr. Ryan D. Mire, past president of ACP.

As Josh Serchen, ACP associate for health policy, explained, the OMB handles a number of budget-related responsibilities and also sets administrative standards and policies to promote uniformity across federal agencies. “This is so that government forms, for example, look the same and collect information in a standardized way,” he said. “With this new rulemaking, OMB is seeking to update the type of racial and ethnic data federal agencies utilize in their work. These data collection standards have a health angle, as they are applied to health research conducted and/or funded by federal agencies.”

The current standards, which were last updated in 1997, are used in the collection of data about race and ethnicity. For example, surveys use these standards when respondents are asked whether they are Hispanic or Latino and whether they fit into any of five categories: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, or White.

“In this proposed rule, OMB proposes making numerous changes, including combining the race and ethnicity questions into one question, creating a new Middle East/North Africa racial category and allowing for more detailed reporting of data at the race and ethnicity level beyond the broad and general categories currently offered,” Serchen said.

ACP believes that current standards for collection of racial and ethnic data have the potential to cloud existing health disparities, making it difficult to identify them and subsequently implement the necessary interventions. In the policy paper “Understanding and Addressing Disparities and Discrimination Affecting the Health and Health Care of Persons and Populations at Highest Risk,” ACP calls for data to be “granular and inclusive of all personal identities to more accurately identify socioeconomic trends and patterns.”

As Serchen explained, “ACP is concerned that existing data collection standards are insufficient for adequately capturing the health and other experiences of all people. For example, the Asian category includes all peoples of birth or descent from the countries of the East Asian subcontinent, Southeast Asian subcontinent and South Asian subcontinent. This umbrella category covers a vast region of peoples with varying religious and medical beliefs; diets; languages; traditions; and cultural, immigrant and health experiences.”

On a similar front, he said, “the lumping of those of Arab descent with White respondents is inappropriate given vastly different societal experiences on the basis of race and perceived religion, as well as demonstrated differences in health and outcomes for some indicators.”

The proposed OMB changes reflect ACP priorities. As a result, “ACP is supportive of these proposed changes, as we believe they will better and more accurately capture the experiences and realities of racial and ethnic minoritized populations,” Serchen said.

He added: “As part of the typical rulemaking process established by statute, the OMB will now consider all of the comments it received before issuing a final version of the rule. The final rule also typically has a comment period and will go into effect on a date to be outlined in the rule.”

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