Blacks hospitalized with coronavirus at rate four times higher than whites, Medicare data reveals

Recent Medicare claims data further highlighted racial and socioeconomic health disparities amid the coronavirus pandemic, causing the federal agency to issue a call for value-based care.

The preliminary data included the total reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries from Jan. 1 to May 16 of 2020. The new data showed that black people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at a rate nearly four times higher than whites, specifically 465 per 100,000 vs 123, according to a CMS statement.

Hispanics had 258 COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000, while Asians had 187 per 100,000, CMS wrote.

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"As we dug into the data, we also found that race and ethnicity are far from the only story," said Seema Verma, CMS Administrator, in a tweet on Monday. "Low socio-economic status represents a powerful predictor of complications from #COVID-19."

“The disparities in the data reflect longstanding challenges facing minority communities and low income older adults, many of whom face structural challenges to their health that go far beyond what is traditionally considered ‘medical,'” Verma said in a statement.

“Now more than ever, it is clear that our fee-for-service system is insufficient for the most vulnerable Americans because it limits payment to what goes on inside a doctor’s office,” Verma said.

The administrator said that when value-care is implemented effectively, it encourages clinicians to care for the whole person and address the social risk factors that are so critical for beneficiaries’ quality of life.

The new data also showed that more than 325,000 Medicare beneficiaries had a COVID-19 diagnosis in the four-month time frame. End-stage renal disease patients, or those with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis, had the highest hospitalization rate among all Medicare beneficiaries at 1,341 hospitalizations per 100,000 beneficiaries.

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Beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid were reported to have a higher rate of COVID-19 infection, with 1,406 cases per 100,000 beneficiaries, while enrollment in Medicare alone saw an infection rate of 325 cases per 100,000 beneficiaries.

Finally, the Center for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Services is developing guidance for states on ways to adopt value-based payment design and strategies to address social determinants of health for beneficiaries, including those who are dually-eligible. Also, the CMS Office of Minority Health will hold a series of listening sessions with stakeholders responsible for providing care to racial and ethnic minorities.

These listening sessions aim to help refine CMS' ongoing outreach and work to improve future efforts on this issue.