Sharpening Medicare's Tools for Reducing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

From 2004 through 2006, the National Academy of Social Insurance convened the Study Panel on Medicare and Disparities to examine how Medicare could use its leverage to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

Key Results:

  • In October 2006, the study panel released its final report, Strengthening Medicare's Role in Reducing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

Key Conclusions and Recommendations: In its report and an article in Health Affairs, the panel made the following conclusions and recommendations:

  • As a social insurance program, Medicare should take the lead in reducing disparities to ensure that all beneficiaries, regardless of race or ethnicity, receive the best possible care.
  • Despite early successes, when it forced hospitals to desegregate as a condition for reimbursement, Medicare has not realized its potential as a catalyst in reducing health disparities.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency charged with administering Medicare, needs a comprehensive plan for reducing racial and ethnic disparities within the Medicare system.
  • Medicare should take steps to reduce disparities within five broad areas where it has leverage (quality of care, access, provider education, individual and institutional capacity and administrative priorities). Specifically, Medicare should:
    • Improve the ability of individual providers and the health care system to provide high-quality care to beneficiaries who are members of underserved racial and ethnic minorities.
    • Increase the access of underserved minority beneficiaries to health care by promoting programs that provide supplementary coverage, improving access to providers and expanding educational and outreach activities.
    • Educate health professionals to improve the health system's diversity and cultural competence.
    • Hold individual and institutional providers responsible for reducing racial and ethnic health disparities.
    • Make the reduction of disparities a top priority and administrative focus at the CMS.