Study Finds Insurance Coverage for All Could Reduce Health Disparities

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<p>Obtaining Medicare coverage is associated with significant reductions in racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities in adults with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to a new <a href="/publications/journal-article/2009/apr/differences-control-cardiovascular-disease-and-diabetes-race">Commonwealth Fund-supported study</a> in the <em>Annals of Internal Medicine</em>. The study, by J. Michael McWilliams, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at Harvard University, points to universal coverage as a possible means of reducing these types of health disparities in the general population. <br /><br />The authors reviewed health data from more than 6,000 people aged 40 to 85 with least one of the following conditions: diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, or stroke. They found that while overall improvements have been made in controlling the diseases, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences have remained the same or in some cases worsened in the pre-Medicare population. However, at age 65, when people become eligible for health care coverage under the Medicare program, differences in health by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status were reduced significantly: </p>
<li>For blood sugar levels with diabetes, educational disparities decreased by 83 percent, while racial and ethnic disparities fell by 78 percent. </li>
<li>For total cholesterol levels, educational disparities disappeared altogether. </li>
<li>For systolic blood pressure, racial disparities decreased by 60 percent. </li>
<p>"The results of this study make it clear that guaranteeing access to affordable insurance for all Americans is the essential first step toward a high performing health care system and a healthier America," said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis. "As our leaders look toward health reform it is critical that they take into account the value of health care coverage for everyone and ensure that all Americans have the ability to obtain insurance." <br /></p>