New data from the federal government shows that healthcare disparities among Medicare recipients diagnosed with COVID-19 are much more alarming than initially thought. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), disparities exist among black, Hispanic and Asian patients – all of whom are hospitalized for COVID-19 at rates higher than their white peers.
CMS Administrator, Seema Verma, says,
The data “confirms long understood and stubbornly persistent disparities in health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority groups.”
Healthcare Disparities in COVID-19 Hospitalization
Between January and May 2020, over 325,000 Medicare recipients were diagnosed with COVID-19. Of those, around 110,000 required hospitalization. According to a report from CMS, healthcare disparities related to these COVID-19 patients are dramatic. COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect black and Hispanic patients. CMS data confirms that healthcare disparities related to COVID-19 exist among Medicare recipients as well.
CMS data shows healthcare disparities, such as:
- Black Medicare patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 at rates four times higher than among white patients.
- Hispanic and Asian Americans are twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19.
- Black and Hispanic Medicare recipients are 50 percent more likely to test positive for the coronavirus.
An analysis from NPR shows that death rates among black COVID-19 patients are almost twice as high than what is expected “based on their share of the population.”
The majority of Medicare recipients are over age 65. Younger recipients often have disabilities or serious medical conditions like end-stage renal failure. There are also many people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. These recipients include people with low income and/or disabilities. CMS finds disparities exist among Medicare recipients and dual Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Healthcare Disparities are a Public Health Concern
While COVID-19 is highlighting healthcare disparities related to the virus and hospitalization rates, the issue of healthcare disparities is much greater. In our ongoing research at Brown, Christie & Green on disparities in the American healthcare system, have found that disparities exist in almost every aspect of healthcare. The most alarming disparities exist among black Americans.
Our research shows the following alarming disparities:
- Black Americans are more likely to die at an early age than white Americans.
- The infant mortality rate among black infants is double that of white infants.
- Black patients are less likely to be prescribed analgesics (pain medication) or antibiotics.
- Black patients are less likely to be transported to the nearest hospital during an emergency.
- Around 18% of preterm births in the U.S. are among black women, compared to 11.7% among white women.
- Black women are more than three times more likely to die during pregnancy due to complications than white women.
- Among high-risk pregnancies, black women are over five times more likely to die than white women.
- Black women with preeclampsia or eclampsia are almost 10 times more likely to die from the disorders than white women.
- Around 40% of black nursing home residents live in “lower-tier” facilities. This is compared to only 9% of white nursing home residents.
- Black nursing home residents are more likely to experience poor quality care.
Addressing Healthcare Disparities
As you can see, healthcare disparities are a widespread problem. From prenatal care to end-of-life care, black Americans statistically receive poorer quality care than their peers. COVID-19 serves as a catalyst for attention to the matter.
The truth is, however, that healthcare disparities have plagued our society for generations. Some lawmakers in the U.S. have even taken steps to proclaim racism a public health emergency as healthcare disparities become more widely talked about. The question is whether this will be enough to counteract the devastation of disparities and make healthcare more equitable in the future.