April is National Minority Health Month and it is more important than ever to raise awareness about health disparities that continue to affect the health of millions of Americans. In this blog we focus on a particular population: Medicare and Medicaid enrollees (dual eligibles).

Dual eligibles are among the most vulnerable populations in our country. They tend to have poorer health status and make greater use of medical and support services. A lesser known fact is that dual eligible beneficiaries are disproportionately from communities of color. Compared to Medicare-only beneficiaries, dual eligibles are up to four times more likely to be from racial/ethnic minority groups, largely from the African-American community. The dual eligible demonstration projects, an initiative spearheaded by the Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office (MMCO), offer a unique opportunity not only to better coordinate care for this population and curb spending, but also to address the well-known and persistent health disparities that plague beneficiaries of color.

A new reportfrom Community Catalyst discusses this opportunity and highlights findings from an examination of how the proposed state demonstration projects plan to address racial and ethnic health disparities. The findings revealed that while each state proposal made some mention of addressing health disparities, few states offered much in the way of clearly defined plans. The report lays out several recommendations for states, the MMCO, health plans and providers to take action on this fundamental issue. Recommendations include:

  • increase data collection on race and ethnicity
  • create clear communication pathways
  • require ongoing consumer engagement
  • set goals to reduce health disparities
  • partner with other organizations and departments that focus on health disparities.

An accompanying guide to the report offers tips for how consumer advocates, particularly those from communities of color, can get involved in shaping these programs to advance health equity.

States, the MMCO, health plans and providers have a unique window of opportunity to improve care for dual eligible beneficiaries of color. However, success depends on focused attention to the reduction of disparities as well as broad stakeholder involvement, particularly those from communities of color. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

~ Leena Sharma, State Advocacy Manager, Integrated Care Advocacy Project