Ten-Year Study Finds Increasing Racial Gaps in the Use of Major Procedures Among the Elderly

Changes in racial disparities when using surgical procedures among Medicare enrollees: Is the gap narrowing?

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Dartmouth Medical School examined data from 29 million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare fee-for-service program from 1992 though 2001. The purpose of the study was to determine if racial and ethnic disparities between black and white patients in their use of nine high-cost surgical procedures narrowed over time.

Key Findings

  • As reported in "Racial Trends in the Use of Major Procedures among the Elderly," published in the New England Journal of Medicine [353(7): 683–691, 2005]:

    • In 1992, white patients had higher rates than blacks for each of the nine procedures studied. By 2001, the gap between whites and blacks had increased for five of the nine procedures, remained unchanged for three procedures and narrowed significantly for one procedure.
    • Procedure rates among blacks increased for all procedures over the study timeframe, but this increase did not reduce the racial gaps. Rates among white patients increased faster than those for black patients for all procedures except two.

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