Medicare patients from racial and ethnic minorities have worse access to care than whites, study finds

The expansion of health insurance has improved, but not quashed, disparities in access to and quality of care for Medicare patients who are from racial and ethnic minorities, according to an NHLBI-funded study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Even Blacks, Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans who enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program, which increased health care access and quality for all its members, had worse experiences and health outcomes than their white and multiracial counterparts.

The findings come from an observational cohort study of a nationally representative sample of 26,887 people in the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey from 2015-18. The study looked at differences in program enrollment and measures of access and quality by race and ethnicity.

The research team compared Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander to white or multiracial patients enrolled in Medicare Advantage versus traditional Medicare.

In the United States, health inequities are disproportionally concentrated within racial and ethnic communities, which commonly have reduced access to ambulatory or out-patient care. Patients who lack access to such care are more likely to experience preventable complications of health conditions, leading to higher rates of hospitalization and death.