Does Medicare Managed Care Provide Equal Treatment for Mental Illness Across Races?

Published in: Archives of General Psychiatry, v. 61, no. 2, Feb. 2004, p. 201-205

by Beth A. Virnig, Zhen Huang, Nicole Lurie, Dorothea Musgrave, A. Marshall McBean, Bryan Dowd

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BACKGROUND: While disparities in access to care are well documented, little is known about the quality of mental health care received by racial and ethnic minorities. The authors examined the quality of mental health care received by elderly enrollees in Medicare + Choice plans. METHODS: An observational study was performed using individual-level Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set data. From 4182 to 5 016 028 individuals 65 years or older and enrolled in Medicare + Choice plans in 1999 were involved in different measures. Rates of mental health inpatient discharges, average length of stay, percentage of members receiving mental health services, rates of follow-up after hospitalization for mental illness, optimal practitioner contacts for antidepressant medication management, and effective acute- and continuation-phase treatment were assessed. RESULTS: Compared with whites, minorities received substantially less follow-up after hospitalization for mental illness. The 30-day follow-up rates for whites, African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics were 60.2%, 42.4%, 54.1%, and 52.6%, respectively. Minorities also had lower rates of antidepressant medication management for newly diagnosed episodes of depression. The rates of optimal practitioner contacts for whites, African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics were 12.5%, 12.0%, 11.1%, and 10.6%; the rates of effective acute-phase treatment were 60.1%, 48.5%, 40.7%, and 57.6%; and the rates of effective continuation-phase treatment were 46.7%, 32.7%, 31.9%, and 39.6%, respectively. The statistically significant disparities persisted after adjusting for effects of age, sex, income, plan model, profit status, and region of the country. CONCLUSIONS: The overall quality of mental health care for people enrolled in Medicare + Choice managed care plans is far from optimal. There are large and persistent racial differences that merit further attention to better understand their underlying causes and solutions.

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