Racial Disparities in Health Care: New Evidence of an Old Problem

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<p>Two recent studies supported by The Commonwealth Fund provide additional evidence that racial disparities in health care continue to be a serious concern. The findings suggest that any comprehensive health reform effort that seeks to improve both access and quality will need to address the problem head-on.<br><br><a href="/publications/in-the-literature/2008/nov/racial-and-ethnic-disparities-in-the-treatment-of-dementia-among-medicare-beneficiaries
">Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Treatment of Dementia Among Medicare Beneficiaries</a>. <em>Journal of Gerontology.</em><br>In this study of 1,120 Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with dementia, a research team led by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy's Ilene H. Zuckerman, Pharm.D., Ph.D., found that use of anti-dementia medications among non-Hispanic whites during the period 2001-2003 was approximately 30 percent higher than among members of other racial and ethnic groups. An estimated 3.4 million Medicare beneficiaries have Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia--a chronic disease with a worldwide societal cost of more than $315 billion. Previous studies have found that dementia is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed among African Americans, Latinos, and other ethnic groups, despite evidence that the condition may be more prevalent in minorities.<br><br><a href="/publications/in-the-literature/2008/nov/racial-disparities-in-access-to-long-term-care--the-illusive-pursuit-of-equity
">Racial Disparities in Access to Long-Term Care: The Illusive Pursuit of Equity</a>. <em>Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.</em><br>In 2000, use of nursing homes among African Americans, which previously lagged behind whites, was 14 percent higher than it was among whites, according to this study of 14,374 U.S. nursing homes. The reversal, however, masks another inequity: the lower quality of facilities predominantly used by African Americans, and the shift among whites toward the use of private-pay alternatives, such as home care and assisted living. To ensure equity in access to high quality nursing home care, the authors recommend more attention to correcting geographic disparities in access, the financial disparities in Medicaid and private pay reimbursement, and broader systemwide accountability for the discharge and placement patterns of hospitals and other medical providers.</p>