COVID-19 Disparities Among Medicare Beneficiaries

June 23, 2020

On Monday (June 22), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released data describing the impact of COVID-19 on the Medicare population as of May 16. Preliminary data indicate that Black Medicare beneficiaries are nearly four times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than white Medicare beneficiaries, with a hospitalization rate of 465 per 100,000 compared to 123 per 100,000 respectively. The hospitalization rate for Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries is 258 per 100,000, and the hospitalization rate for Asian Medicare beneficiaries is 187 per 100,000.

Clear disparities are also evident when looking at confirmed COVID-19 cases among Medicare beneficiaries by race. The rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Black Medicare beneficiaries is 1,107, compared to 417 among white Medicare beneficiaries. The rate among Hispanic and Asian Medicare beneficiaries is 692 and 455 per 100,000 respectively. The rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among dual eligible beneficiaries is 1,406 per 100,000, compared to 325 per 100,000 among Medicare-only beneficiaries. This income-driven disparity remains when data are further broken down by race, but again Black dual eligible beneficiaries experience a much higher rate of infection than other races.

“The disparities in the data reflect longstanding challenges facing minority communities and low income older adults, many of whom face structural challenges to their health that go far beyond what is traditionally considered ‘medical’,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

According to CMS, the Office of Minority Health will be holding a series of listening sessions with key stakeholders responsible for providing care to racial and ethnic minorities with the intent to refine ongoing outreach and work by CMS to improve future efforts on this issue. Additionally, CMS is calling for a multi-sectoral solution that includes increased implementation of a value-based system that rewards providers for keeping patients healthy and gives consumers information to make healthcare choices based on quality. Additionally, the Center for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Services is developing guidance for states on new opportunities to adopt innovative, value-based payment design and implement strategies to address social determinants of health for their beneficiaries.

More information and additional analysis can be found here, with answers to frequently asked questions here. Data reflect COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries between Jan. 1 and May 16, based on preliminary claims data. CMS plans to update these data monthly as more claims and encounter records are received.

The IHA Board of Trustees is establishing a permanent standing committee to address health disparities and underlying socioeconomic factors that continue to adversely affect minority communities and populations across Illinois.