CMS releases first batch of data highlighting COVID impact on Medicare beneficiaries

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Original story posted on: July 29, 2020

Minorities have been found to be disproportionately affected by adverse outcomes.

Federal officials say their first monthly statistical update illustrating the impact of the COVID-19 virus on the Medicare population leaves no doubt: minorities are being disproportionately affected by the continuing pandemic.  

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made the announcement on Tuesday.

“The updated data confirm that the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) is disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities,” CMS’s announcement read. “This is due, in part, to the higher rates of chronic health conditions in these populations and issues related to the social determinants of health (SDoH).”

The announcement noted that the CMS Office of Minority Health recently hosted three listening sessions with stakeholders who serve and represent racial and ethnic minority Medicare beneficiaries across the country, with officials describing the sessions as productive – and offering “helpful insight into ways in which CMS can address social risks and other barriers to healthcare that will help in our efforts to reduce health disparities.”

The new data covers COVID cases and hospitalizations of Medicare beneficiaries occurring from Jan. 1 to June 20, based on Medicare claims and encounter data CMS received by July 17.

Some of the key findings included the following:

  • Black beneficiaries continue to be hospitalized at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups, with 670 hospitalizations per 100,000 beneficiaries. 
  • Beneficiaries eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid – who often suffer from multiple chronic conditions and have low incomes – were hospitalized at a rate more than 4.5 times higher than beneficiaries with Medicare only (719 versus 153 per 100,000).
  • Beneficiaries with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) continue to be hospitalized at higher rates than other segments of the Medicare population, with 1,911 hospitalizations per 100,000 beneficiaries, compared with 241 per 100,000 for older beneficiaries and 226 per 100,000 for disabled beneficiaries. 
  • CMS paid $2.8 billion in Medicare fee-for-service claims for COVID-related hospitalizations, or an average of $25,255 per beneficiary.

For the first time, CMS noted, it was able to include data for American Indian/Alaskan Native Medicare beneficiaries, who were found to have the second-highest rate of hospitalization for COVID-19 among racial/ethnic groups, only after Blacks. Previously, the number of hospitalizations of American Indian/Alaskan Native beneficiaries was too low to be reported.

For more information on the Medicare COVID-19 data, go online to https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-systems/preliminary-medicare-covid-19-data-snapshot. For an FAQ on the data release, visit: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/medicare-covid-19-data-snapshot-faqs.pdf.

The COVID-19 pandemic has now reportedly sickened more than 17 million people worldwide, killing more than 660,000. The U.S. accounts for approximately a quarter of those figures.

Mark Spivey

Mark Spivey is a national correspondent for RACmonitor.com, ICD10monitor.com, and Auditor Monitor who has been writing and editing material about the federal oversight of American healthcare for more than a decade. He can be reached at mcspivey@hotmail.com.

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