Racial/ethnic Differences in Medicare Experiences and Immunization

The Role of Disease Burden

Published In: Medical Care, v. 51, no. 9, Sep. 2013, p. 823-831

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Nathan Orr, Marc N. Elliott, Q. Burkhart, Amelia Haviland, Robin M. Weinick

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Research Question

  1. Does disease burden affect racial/ethnic disparities in care among Medicare beneficiaries?

BACKGROUND: Although Medicare provides beneficiaries with primary access to the health care system, racial/ethnic disparities in health care experiences and preventive care are well documented in the Medicare population. OBJECTIVE: To investigate disease burden and its possible impact on racial/ethnic health disparities for measures of secondary and tertiary access to health care, such as access to health plan information, obtaining recommended care in a timely manner, and immunization. SUBJECTS: A total of 355,874 beneficiaries over the age of 64 years who responded to the 2008 Medicare Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey. METHODS: We fit a series of linear, case-mix adjusted models predicting Medicare CAHPS measures of patient experience and immunization from race/ethnicity, a 0 to 6 count of disease burden, and their interaction. RESULTS: Disparities between non-Hispanic whites and other racial/ethnic groups are largest among beneficiaries with no major health conditions. Disparities between whites and other racial/ethnic groups on getting care quickly and immunization are mitigated at higher levels of disease burden. Disparities persist at higher levels of disease burden for getting information from one's health plan. DISCUSSION: Whites have better overall access to care than other beneficiaries with Medicare in the absence of major health conditions. Disparities in getting care quickly and immunizations are smaller among beneficiaries with greater disease burden, perhaps as a function of integration into the health care system gained through management of health issues. These results underscore the importance of outreach to minorities with low utilization and few or no major health conditions.

Key Findings

  • In the absence of major health problems, whites have better overall access to care than other Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Racial/ethnic disparities in such measures as getting care quickly and vaccination rates are smaller among beneficiaries who have major medical conditions.


  • Outreach is needed to ensure that minority beneficiaries who have no major health problems have broad access to care, including access to information about health plans and immunization.

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