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Medicare Data Shows Older Minorities Hit Hardest by COVID-19

Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native beneficiaries hospitalized at highest rates

Male Covid patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, TX

Carolyn Cole/Getty Images

En español | A new report released July 28 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) highlights the pandemic's impact on the Medicare population, and the trends mirror what's happening nationwide: Minorities are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and the illness it causes.

Black beneficiaries were hospitalized at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups, the data collected from Jan. 1 to June 20 shows. COVID-19 cases were also highest among Blacks. Previously, the number of hospitalizations among American Indian and Alaskan Native beneficiaries was too low to be reported. Now, this population has the second-highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations and third-highest rate of coronavirus cases, the new report shows. Meanwhile, Hispanic beneficiaries had the third-highest rate of hospitalizations and second-highest rate of reported infections.

The most vulnerable older adults have been hit hardest by the coronavirus. Hospitalization rates for beneficiaries eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid — “who often suffer from multiple chronic conditions and have low incomes,” according to the CMS — were nearly five times that of beneficiaries eligible for Medicare alone. Dual beneficiaries were also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 case counts. Medicare eligibility typically starts at age 65.

All totaled, more than 160,800 Medicare beneficiaries were hospitalized for the illness in the roughly five-month time frame, with 549,414 cases of COVID-19 reported.

AARP calls for lawmakers to act

Data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows Black Americans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives are five times as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 as white people, and Hispanics are four times as likely to wind up in the hospital for coronavirus infections, compared with non-Hispanic whites.

"While the COVID-19 virus can affect people of all races and ethnicities, there is a striking divide in how the pandemic has affected people by race across the country, broadly reflecting historical injustices,” AARP Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Bill Sweeney wrote in a July 29 letter to members of the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging. The letter calls for “immediate and meaningful action” from lawmakers “to address our nation's health disparities."

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Public health experts point to a number of factors that are likely causing the crisis seen in minority populations. Much of the essential workforce is comprised of Black and Latino workers, putting them at increased risk for exposure to the virus. Plus, chronic health conditions that can increase risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, especially when poorly managed or untreated, are more common in racial and ethnic minorities. The CDC also notes poverty, discrimination and access to health care as factors that contribute to increased risk.

"COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 147,000 people in the U.S. However, long-standing discrimination has placed some members of certain racial and ethnic groups at greater risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19, compared with non-Hispanic white people,” AARP's Sweeney said in the letter to lawmakers.