Racial and Ethnic Health Inequities and Medicare

This chart collection draws on primary and secondary data analyses by KFF and other sources to examine the characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of the Medicare population by race and ethnicity (see Methods for details on data and analysis). It includes data from a variety of sources to describe demographics, health status and disease prevalence, health coverage, access to care and service utilization, and health outcomes, including the most current data available pertaining to disparities related to COVID-19 within the Medicare population. It also documents disparities in income and wealth among people on Medicare.

Key Takeaways

  • Life expectancy at age 65 has improved since the enactment of Medicare among all older adults but is lower for Black adults than White or Hispanic adults (18.0, 19.4, and 21.4 years, respectively) and higher for Hispanic adults than Black or White adults.
  • Overall, Black and Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries have fewer years of formal education and lower median per capita income, savings, and home equity than White beneficiaries.
  • Among Medicare beneficiaries, people of color are more likely to report being in relatively poor health, have higher prevalence rates of some chronic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes than White beneficiaries; they are also less likely to have one or more doctor visit, but have higher rates of hospital admissions and emergency department visits than White beneficiaries.
  • While the vast majority of Medicare beneficiaries across all racial and ethnic groups have some source of supplemental coverage to help fill in Medicare’s benefit gaps and cost-sharing requirements, the share of beneficiaries with different types of coverage varies by race and ethnicity. A smaller share of Black and Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries than White beneficiaries have private supplemental coverage through Medigap or retiree health plans, while a larger share have wrap-around coverage under Medicaid; a larger share of Black and Hispanic than White beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans
  • While relatively few Medicare beneficiaries overall report problems with access to care, a larger share of Black and Hispanic beneficiaries report trouble getting needed care than White beneficiaries.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted stark racial/ethnic health inequities among Medicare beneficiaries, with Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Natives accounting for disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Among adults ages 65 and older, people of color bear disproportionate rates of COVID-19 deaths relative to older White adults.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270

www.kff.org | Email Alerts: kff.org/email | facebook.com/KFF | twitter.com/kff

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.