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Study: Black Medicare Beneficiaries Nearly Four Times as Likely to be Hospitalized from COVID-19

Published July 20, 2020

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According to federal data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Black Americans enrolled in Medicare have been hospitalized from COVID-19 at a higher rate than other ethnic groups.

Black Medicare beneficiaries are in fact hospitalized for COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) almost four times as frequently as Caucasian beneficiaries.

Racial disparities among Medicare beneficiaries with COVID-19

Hispanic Americans enrolled in Medicare are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to be hospitalized for COVID-19, while Asian American beneficiaries are around 50% more likely than Caucasians to end up in the hospital.

Black and Hispanic beneficiaries also display higher rates of positive COVID-19 tests. 

“The disparities in the data reflect longstanding challenges facing minority communities and low income older adults, many of whom face structural challenges to their health that go far beyond what is traditionally considered ‘medical.’” - Seema Verma, Administrator for the CMS1

While a disparity in hospitalization rates among older adults and younger people was observed earlier in the ongoing pandemic, the data released by the CMS on June 22 highlights racial disparities. 

Medicare beneficiaries with kidney failure known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) are the demographic with the highest percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations, regardless of their race. 

Medicaid beneficiaries and urban residents face much higher COVID-19 risk

Some additional findings from the CMS report include:

  • The COVID-19 infection rate for dual-eligible beneficiaries (those enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid) is more than four times as high as those solely enrolled in Medicare.

  • The hospitalization rate among urban/suburban residents is nearly four times as high as those who live in more rural areas. 

The study included the more than 325,000 Medicare beneficiaries who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and May 16, 2020. Nearly 110,000 of those — or roughly one out of every three — were hospitalized. The data is not necessarily complete however, as it is based off of claims filed during the study period and not all claims may have been fully processed yet. 

The CMS data is consistent with at least two other studies:

  • A study of a large health system in California conducted in May found that African-Americans were 2.7 times more likely than Caucasians to be hospitalized from COVID-19.2

  • NPR analysis conducted in May based on demographic data collected by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic found that the COVID-19 fatality rate among African-Americans is nearly two times higher than what would be expected based on their share of the population.3 

Learn more about how Medicare is helping care for beneficiaries during the novel coronavirus pandemic.


1 CMS. (Jun. 22, 2020). Trump Administration Issues Call to Action Based on New Data Detailing COVID-19 Impacts on Medicare Beneficiaries [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-issues-call-action-based-new-data-detailing-covid-19-impacts-medicare.

2 Azar K, et al. (May 21, 2020). Disparities in Outcomes Among COVID-19 Patients in a Large Health Care System in California. HealthAffairs, 39(7). https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00598.

3 Goddy, M. (May 30, 2020). What Do Coronavirus Racial Disparities Look Like State By State? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/30/865413079/what-do-coronavirus-racial-disparities-look-like-state-by-state.