Equity in Health Data: COVID-19 as a Case Study

October 15, 2021

Health data is critical for health care decision making and policy development. It can be used to determine a course of treatment, coverage eligibility, and even insurance premiums, but can be vulnerable to flaws like missing information or bias. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a notable example of the challenges and opportunities in leveraging health data. We relied on data to guide our pandemic response, however, research has shown that doing so may have perpetuated the inequities we witnessed. So, what happens if a decision-making tool learns from incomplete or biased data? Can it be reversed? This briefing provided a primer on health data, how we use it, and how we process it. Attendees learned the challenges of leveraging health data for decision-making and the implications for providers, payers, and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists discussed how to ensure that data is translated into unbiased information and how we can catch, solve, and prevent flaws in data for more equitable care.


  • Samantha Artiga, MHSA, Vice President and Director, Racial Equity and Health Policy Program, KFF
  • Kadija Ferryman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Ziad Obermeyer, M.D., Blue Cross of California Distinguished Associate Professor, UC Berkeley School of Public Health
  • Nadia J. Siddiqui, MPH, Chief Health Equity Officer, Texas Health Institute (moderator)

This was the final event in Part II of the Alliance for Health Policy’s 2021 Signature Series focused on health equity. See previous events in this series here.

Event Resources

Key Resources

“Algorithmic Bias Playbook.” Obermeyer, Z., Nissan, R., Stern, M., et al. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. June 2021. Available here.

“New Commission to Tackle How National Health Data Are Collected, Shared, and Used.” Plough, A., Christopher, G. Health Affairs. May 18, 2021. Available here.

“A New Definition of Health Equity to Guide Future Efforts and Measure Progress.” Braveman, P. Health Affairs. June 22, 2017. Available here.

Government Resources

“Federal Action is Needed to Improve Race and Ethnicity Data in Health Programs.” Grantmakers in Health and National Committee for Quality Assurance. October 13, 2021. Available here.

“Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through Government.” U.S. Office of Management and Budget. May 5, 2021. Available here.

“Developing Health Equity Measures.” Zuckerman, R., Samson, L. Tarazi, W., et al. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. May 2021. Available here.

“Paving the Way to Equity: A Progress Report.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 2021. Available here.

“Ways and Means Committee Releases Summary of Responses to the Rural and Underserved Communities Health Task Force’s Request for Information.” U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. July 10, 2020. Available here.

Additional Resources

“Racial Bias in Health Care Artificial Intelligence.” NIHCM Foundation. September 30, 2021. Available here.

“Big Data Analytics and the Struggle for Equity in Health Care: The Promise and Perils.” Ibrahim, S., Charlson, M., Neill, D. Health Equity. 2020. Available here.

“Developing a Framework to Measure the Health Equity Impact of Accountable Communities for Health.” Hughes, D., Levi, J., Heinrich, J. et al. The Funders Forum on Accountable Health. July 2020. Available here.

“America’s Opportunity Gaps: By the Numbers.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce. June 24, 2020. Available here.

“National COVID-19 Patient Data Vital to Fixing Inequality.” Robeznieks, A. American Medical Association. April 24, 2020. Available here.

“The Health Equity Measurement Framework: A Comprehensive Model to Measure Social Inequities in Health.” Dover, D., Belon, A. International Journal for Equity in Health. February 19, 2019. Available here.

“Measuring What Works to Achieve Health Equity: Metrics for the Determinants of Health.” Davis, R. Prevention Institute. June 2015. Available here.

“Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Data Collection in Clinical Settings and in Electronic Health Records: A Key to Ending LGBT Health Disparities.” Cahill, S., Makadon, H. September 5, 2013. Available here.

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Samantha Artiga, MHSA
KFF, Vice President and Director, Racial Equity and Health Policy Program

Kadija Ferryman, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Assistant Professor

Ziad Obermeyer, M.D.
UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Blue Cross of California Distinguished Professor

Nadia Siddiqui, MPH
Texas Health Institute, Chief Health Equity Officer

Experts and Analysts

Adimika Arthur, MPH
HealthTech for Medicaid (HT4M), Executive Director

Kara Ayers, Ph.D.
University of Cincinnati, Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Associate Director

Sean Cahill, Ph.D.
Fenway Institute, Director, Health Policy, Research

Irene Dankwa-Mullan, M.D., MPH
IBM Watson Health, IBM Corporation, Chief Health Equity Officer

Nancy Dickey, M.D.
Texas A&M Rural and Community Health, Executive Director

Indivar Dutta-Gupta
Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality, Co-Executive Director

Cara V. James, Ph.D.
Grantmakers in Health, President and CEO

Annette James, MAAA, FSA, FCA
American Academy of Actuaries, Chairperson, Health Equity Work Group

Rebecca Johnson, MBA
Principal & Healthcare Management Consultant, Milliman

Yasmeen Long, M.A.
FasterCures (Milken Institute), Director

Jewel Mullen, M.D., MPH, MPA
University of Texas at Austin, Dell Medical School, Associate Dean for Health Equity

Usha Ranji, M.S.
KFF, Associate Director, Women’s Health Policy


Cara Coleman, MPH, J.D.
Family Voices, Project Manager

Eliot Fishman, Ph.D.
Families USA, Senior Director of Health Policy

Mark Hamelburg
America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Senior Vice President

Lauren Kennedy, J.D.
National Partnership for Women & Families, Director of Health Policy

Steven Lopez
UnidosUS, Health Policy, Director

Madeline Morcelle, J.D.
National Health Law Program, Staff Attorney

Marcus Plescia, M.D., MPH
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Chief Medical Officer

Claudia A. Salzburg, Ph.D.
Federation of American Hospitals, Vice President, Quality

Litjen (L.J.) Tan, Ph.D., M.S.
Immunization Action Coalition, Chief Strategy Officer

Brian Webb, MPA
National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Assistant Director, Health Policy and Legislation

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