Accurate and complete information on the race and ethnicity of Medicare beneficiaries is essential for eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care. In spite of several improvements that have been made in the past decade, Medicare’s data on race and ethnicity continue to have deficiencies, particularly with respect to the smaller minority groups (Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives). The primary structural issues affecting the Medicare data are (1) the use of race/ethnicity information from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as the primary source for Medicare data, and (2) the lack of a two-item designation method for race/ethnicity at SSA and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). In addition to work at CMS addressing the entire Medicare population, managed care plans have the opportunity to collect and use information on the race and ethnicity of the people they serve. This paper describes the current state of Medicare’s data on race and ethnicity and provides recommendations for improvement.
This paper was commissioned by the NASI Study Panel on Medicare and Racial and Ethnic Disparities.