Medicare Needs To Do More To Address Racial, Ethnic Health Disparities, Experts Say
Health care experts on Monday at a briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform said that Medicare can do more to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities, United Press International reports. Previous studies have found that racial and ethnic minorities receive less access to care and poorer quality treatment and experience worse health outcomes than whites, according to UPI. Renee Landers, a health law professor at Suffolk University Law School, said Medicare could immediately begin to address the issue by providing beneficiaries with information on how to navigate the health system and requiring hospitals to collect and maintain data on the relationship between treatment and race. She said, "Medicare is the largest purchaser of health care and has a tremendous influence on all aspects of health care in this country," adding, "It has the obligation to ensure that all beneficiaries receive appropriate care on a fair and nondiscriminatory basis." Bob Griss, executive director of the Institute of Social Medicine and Community Health, said HHS should ensure providers are giving equal treatment and then impose penalties if there is unequal treatment. Griss said that Medicare officials are "not fulfilling [their] responsibility to address this form of discrimination," adding, "They have so much clout, but they're not using it." Carolyn Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said the outreach program used to promote the Medicare drug benefit could serve as a model to help reduce disparities. She added, "Outreach for Part D built really useful infrastructure. People across the country sat down at churches and community centers to explain the program. More engaged patients get better health care." Peter Bach, a health researcher and physician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said that resources should be focused on persuading physicians to adhere to clinical guidelines, noting that if doctors do so, care should eventually become equal for all patients. He said, "The stubborn challenges that poverty poses extend far beyond the brick walls of health care institutions. There must be reasonable expectations for what Medicare can do" (Pierce, United Press International, 1/29).
A webcast of the briefing is available online at kaisernetwork.org