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Medicare Data Confirms Virus’ Harsh Impact on People of Color

July 28, 2020, 8:39 PM

American Indian and indigenous Alaskan Medicare beneficiaries have the second highest hospitalization rate for Covid-19 among all racial and ethnic groups in the program, new federal data shows. Only Black beneficiaries have a higher rate.

The finding adds to the growing body of research that shows the pandemic is taking a disparate toll on communities of color.

Black beneficiaries had the highest hospitalization rate at 670 per 100,000, according to the Medicare claims data. They were followed by American Indians and Alaskan Natives with a rate of 505 hospitalizations per 100,000. Hispanics, who can be of any race, had a hospitalization rate of 401 per 100,000. They were followed by Asians at 207 per 100,000 and Whites with 175 hospitalizations per 100,000.

Health disparities among disadvantaged groups are “symptoms of broader social and economic challenges that are rooted in structural and systemic barriers,” like housing, education, and the justice system, “as well as underlying racism and discrimination,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Blacks, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives have worse health outcomes compared with Whites across most health status measures, including infant mortality rates, HIV and AIDS diagnoses, and death rates, according to a Kaiser analysis. Data on Hispanics, who can be of several races, was mixed, but they also experience large disparities on certain measures.

In the pandemic, minority groups have been hit harder by Covid-19. Blacks are more than 3.5 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than Whites, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely, according to researchers at Yale and the University of Pittsburgh.

New data on Covid-19 cases shows more than 549,000 traditional Medicare beneficiaries were diagnosed the first six months of 2020, and nearly 161,000 were hospitalized at a cost of $2.8 billion. That’s an average of $25,255 per hospitalization.

Medicare patients who also qualify for Medicaid benefits had the highest infection rate among all beneficiaries, at more than 2,310 infections per 100,000 compared with just 542 per 100,000 for all beneficiaries.

While 27% of Medicare beneficiaries with Covid-19 returned home after hospitalization, 26% died, the data shows. Another 23% were transferred to nursing homes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Pugh in Washington at tpugh@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Brent Bierman at bbierman@bloomberglaw.com

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