Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Group Wants Medicare to Help Reduce Disparities

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Group Wants Medicare to Help Reduce Disparities

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- As one of the biggest and most influential payers in medicine, Medicare should use its clout to help reduce and eliminate the disparities in care for racial and ethnic minorities, according to a report from an independent panel of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

The report, along with an updated survey on health plans' progress in identifying disparities, was released at a press briefing sponsored by the journal Health Affairs. NASI, a Washington-based nonprofit organization of experts in Social Security, Medicare, and social insurance, made 17 recommendations on how Medicare can improve quality of, and access to care for minorities, educate health care providers in cultural competence, and hold them accountable for reducing disparities.

About 9 million of Medicare's 42 million beneficiaries are minorities. Those minority beneficiaries generally are in poorer health, according to NASI. For example, more black Medicare beneficiaries than white beneficiaries have diabetes, 30% and 18%, respectively.

Medicare is uniquely positioned to influence practice patterns, and has a duty to ensure that its recipients get care on a fair and equitable basis, said Bruce C. Vladeck, Ph.D., chairman of the NASI panel and Interim President of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark.

NASI's report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the California Endowment, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

The panel recommended that the federal government start addressing gaps in care by creating incentives to improve quality. Incentives should be carefully structured to avoid exacerbating disparities, however, said Mr. Vladeck.

To increase access, Medicare should ensure that minorities are enrolled in Medicare supplemental insurance--or Medigap--plans, said the report. Health systems should increase the number of minority providers and staff, and enhance cultural competence training. Providers should collect data that will help identify minorities and assess their special needs, according to the panel.

Health plans already collect such data, according to Karen Ignani, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans. …

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