• Racial disparities;
  • health care expenditures;
  • quantile regression;
  • vigicile

Objective. To assess whether black–white and Hispanic–white disparities increase or abate in the upper quantiles of total health care expenditure, conditional on covariates.

Data Source. Nationally representative adult population of non-Hispanic whites, African Americans, and Hispanics from the 2001–2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys.

Study Design. We examine unadjusted racial/ethnic differences across the distribution of expenditures. We apply quantile regression to measure disparities at the median, 75th, 90th, and 95th quantiles, testing for differences over the distribution of health care expenditures and across income and education categories. We test the sensitivity of the results to comparisons based only on health status and estimate a two-part model to ensure that results are not driven by an extremely skewed distribution of expenditures with a large zero mass.

Principal Findings. Black–white and Hispanic–white disparities diminish in the upper quantiles of expenditure, but expenditures for blacks and Hispanics remain significantly lower than for whites throughout the distribution. For most education and income categories, disparities exist at the median and decline, but remain significant even with increased education and income.

Conclusions. Blacks and Hispanics receive significantly disparate care at high expenditure levels, suggesting prioritization of improved access to quality care among minorities with critical health issues.