Black and dual-eligible Medicare beneficiaries among hardest hit by COVID-19

Federal health officials say the most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries are hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with racial and ethnic minorities and dual-eligible patients experiencing the highest hospitalizations.

A “snapshot” analysis of Medicare claims and encounter data between Jan. 1 and June 20 released by CMS on Tuesday shows Medicare beneficiaries made up more than 549,000 of the 2.2 million total coronavirus cases reported in the U.S. during that period, accounting for more than 160,000 hospitalizations.

Black Medicare beneficiaries remained the most impacted racial and ethnic population from the pandemic both in cases and hospitalizations, mirroring national trends of the disproportionate effect the virus has had on that group.

Black beneficiaries account for 1,658 of every 100,000 cases and 670 out of every 100,000 hospitalizations during the study period.

Dually-eligible Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were hospitalized more than five-fold compared to Medicare-only beneficiaries, at 719 for every 100,000 compared to 153 for every 100,000. Beneficiaries with end-stage renal disease had the single largest hospitalization rate at 1,999 for every 100,000.

Nearly half of all hospitalizations from COVID-19 lasted between one and seven days, according to the analysis.

CMS paid $2.8 billion in Medicare fee-for-service claims for COVID-related hospitalizations during the study period, at an average of $25,255 per beneficiary.

The analysis marks the first monthly update CMS has provided of COVID case and hospitalization data since the agency began providing such information last month as a way of detailing the impact the virus is having on various Medicare populations.

The data add to the mounting evidence of a widening racial gap in terms of outcomes from the virus. As of July 21, the mortality rate from COVID-19 among Blacks was nearly four times higher than the rate among Whites, according to the most recent analysis from American Public Medica Research Labs.

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