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Strengthening Medicare's Role in Reducing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

By: Bruce C. Vladeck, Paul N. Van de Water, and June Eichner (eds.)
Report of the Study Panel on Medicare and Disparities
Published: October 2006

October 2006

Disparities in health care for racial and ethnic minorities and low-income persons pose a pressing national problem. This report of a study panel convened by the National Academy of Social Insurance examines Medicare's role in moving towards a solution.

Disparities in access to health care and medical treatment have been documented again and again. Even among Medicare beneficiaries, marked disparities persist in health care, although disparities in the use of health care services by race and income have diminished since Medicare's implementation. Minorities also fall short of whites on many measures of health status.

Because of its dominant influence over the entire health care sector, Medicare has unique opportunities to, and responsibility for, reducing racial and ethnic health disparities. Along with its ability to improve the care provided to its 9 million minority beneficiaries, Medicare's leverage as the largest purchaser and regulator of health care provides an ability to achieve reductions in disparities. As a social insurance program, Medicare has the responsibility to ensure that all those who have contributed to the program receive appropriate care on a fair and nondiscriminatory basis.

The study panel concludes that Medicare is obligated to take the lead in reducing disparities—both for its beneficiaries and throughout the health system—and makes 17 recommendations to those who set policy for and administer the Medicare program. The panel's recommendations fall into five categories: