Universal Health and Racial Disparities

June 4th, 2009 | Sources: Annals of Int'l Medicine, BurrillReport

Harvard scientists have found that as people age to a point where they become eligible for Medicare, the improved access to care it assures is associated with reductions in racial and socioeconomic disparities in health status.

whencanwejoinMedicare?That supports a contention made by many that universal coverage could narrow the US’ appalling gaps in the quality and outcomes of care for non-whites and the poor.
Before reaching these conclusions, John Ayanian and colleagues performed observational and quasi-experimental analyses of cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Data had been collected between 1999 and 2006 from adults aged 40 to 85 years old.
The scientists found that measures of disease control improved significantly across all racial and socioeconomic subsets during the 7-year study period, which had the effect of preserving racial disparities noted at study onset…until that is, people reached an age where they qualified for Medicare.

That’s when the gaps narrowed dramatically.

Once people with hypertension enrolled in Medicare, Black vs. white disparities in systolic blood pressure dropped by 4.2 mm Hg, a 60% reduction.

Similarly, Medicare enrollment was associated with a 70% reduction in Black-white disparities for hemoglobin A1c levels, a measure of diabetes control. There were similar reductions in disparities when people were stratified according to educational status. 

“Universal health insurance may reduce persistent disparities we’ve seen for far too long in Americans from different racial or ethnic groups,” Ayanian told BurrillReport. He’s a professor of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The write-up is in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“The results of this study make it clear that guaranteeing access to affordable insurance for all Americans is the essential first step toward…a healthier America,” said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, which funded the study.


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