Report follows a convening with more than 30 health experts, including representatives from NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, Morehouse School of Medicine, National Minority Quality Forum, and others
Washington, D.C. – Better Medicare Alliance, a community of more than 400,000 beneficiaries and over 140 ally organizations supporting Medicare Advantage (MA), issued a new report entitled, “Convening Report: Addressing Health Disparities in Medicare”
The report follows a convening led by Better Medicare Alliance and featuring more than 30 health leaders including providers, patient advocates, academic researchers, health plans, and Members of Congress. It considers the opportunities and challenges in addressing racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in health care, with a particular focus on Medicare Advantage.
“Racial, ethnic, and gender disparities continue to persist across health care. This fact and reality of the impact on the health and well-being of millions of Medicare beneficiaries calls for attention from all stakeholders to address this failing,” said Allyson Y. Schwartz, President and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance. “With this convening report, we took a serious look at the issues and opportunities that can move us forward in addressing health disparities. While the recommendations for action need to be addressed by the health system at large, there are key ways that Medicare Advantage can advance this cause. Given that Medicare Advantage serves a higher proportion of minority and low-income beneficiaries than Traditional Medicare, there is an opportunity for plans, providers, and community partners to lead the effort to achieve health equity.”
Schwartz added, “Accurate and actionable data on where disparities occur, meaningful outreach to recruit more minority health care professionals, and a deeper trust between providers and patients are critical building blocks in a health system that does right by every American.”
Other health equity leaders expressed support for Better Medicare Alliance’s recommendations.
“Racial and ethnic health inequities are a painful reality in our current healthcare system. I saw them working in a hospital and I see them now as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. I applaud the Better Medicare Alliance for their efforts to discuss this reality and assist in crafting realistic and actionable solutions to address these disparities,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL).
“This report makes an important contribution to the health equity discourse by compelling us to face a critical driver of health and well-being in the United States. I hope it will help us move from a partial commitment to a full commitment to eliminating health disparities in our country,” added Daniel E. Dawes, J.D., Director, Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.
Key findings and recommendations of the report include:
- Racial and ethnic disparities in health care persist today, fueled by a lack of diversity in the health care workforce, lack of trust between patients and providers, and insufficient data, among other challenges.
- The report cites findings from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Minority Health showing quantifiable disparities in care based on patient experience measures, with Asian or Pacific Islanders most acutely impacted.
- For all that we do know about disparities in health care, gaps in data still exist. The report notes that CMS issues an annual report on minority experiences in Medicare Advantage, but there is no similar composite report assessing or comparing diversity in Traditional Medicare.
- Medicare Advantage alone cannot address health disparities that exist throughout the health care system but it is uniquely equipped to lead the way in improving health equity.
- The report notes that “Overall, Medicare Advantage has a higher proportion of lower-income, dual-eligible, and minority beneficiaries” than Traditional Medicare. It further outlines tools in Medicare Advantage to address health inequities, such as: value-based care and care management, flexible benefit design – including the recently expanded definition of “supplemental benefits” – and the Star Rating System.
- Policymakers, plans, and providers can take actionable steps toward addressing health disparities. Some solutions listed in the report include:
- Health organizations should require training at all levels in unconscious bias and cultural sensitivity. Requiring this training as a condition for being credentialed/licensed in Medicare should be considered.
- Health organizations should establish specific goals and strategies to increase the diversity of professional staff.
- Congress and the Administration should consider policies to expand medical and health professional education opportunities across disciplines to racial and ethnic minority populations.
- HHS should engage stakeholders in establishing a process for collecting accurate and timely data on race, ethnicity, and gender and offer recommendations to target action to address and eliminate health disparities.
- CMS should prioritize health equity as a goal across all payment and delivery models in Medicare and Medicaid, including creating initiatives to be undertaken by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to implement demonstration or pilot projects that focus on decreasing health disparities, particularly for those individuals with multiple chronic diseases.
“Black Americans regardless of socioeconomic status are more likely than their white counterparts to die from stroke, heart disease, or breast cancer, among other conditions,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA). “This cannot persist. We need action from all sectors in health care – from health professionals and training institutions to systems of care – to bring true health equity to all Americans.”
“Our nation’s seniors and chronically ill need a diverse physician workforce that is more likely to care for them and better reflects their cultural characteristics in order to deliver more appropriate care, increase trust, provide greater patient satisfaction, and lead to better health outcomes,” concluded Dr. William McDade, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).