By Carl O’Donnell and Trisha Royo
(Reuters) – Black Americans enrolled in Medicare were around four times as likely as their white counterparts to be hospitalized for COVID-19, U.S. government data released on Monday showed, highlighting significant racial disparities in health outcomes during the pandemic.
“The disparities in the data reflect longstanding challenges facing minority communities and low income older adults,” said Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which released the data.
The data showed that more than 325,000 Medicare beneficiaries were diagnosed with COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and May 16. Of those, more than 110,000 were hospitalized.
Black Americans had a hospitalization rate of 465 per 100,000 Black Medicare beneficiaries. For other groups measured by CMS, the rates of per capita hospitalizations were 258 for Hispanics, 187 for Asians and 123 for whites.
Hospitalization rates were high for people who qualified for both the senior-focused Medicare program and the low-income-focused Medicaid program, at 473 per 100,000.
“Low socioeconomic status all wrapped up with racial disparities represents a powerful predictor of complications with COVID-19,” Verma said during a briefing about the data.
Medicare beneficiaries with end-stage kidney disease were hospitalized for COVID-19 at a rate of 1,341 per 100,000.
Medicare is a federal health insurance program designed primarily for seniors, as well as some people with disabilities and end-stage kidney disease.
Verma said that CMS’ ongoing push to reimburse providers based on health outcomes rather than paying them fixed fees for their services could help address racial disparities.
“When implemented effectively, (value-based reimbursement) encourages clinicians to care for the whole person and address the social risk factors that are so critical for our beneficiaries’ quality of life,” Verma said.
The data is based on claims filed for reimbursement from Medicare and therefore operates at a delay of several weeks.
Reporting by Trisha Roy and Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Cynthia Osterman.