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Caring for Our Elders: Feds to Address Health Care Disparities Among Seniors of Color


Recently, federal regulators announced a new plan to make healthcare for poor and minority senior citizens more equitable. This announcement comes three decades after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided a compelling report to address the problem.

The first plan for addressing health equity was released by The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and addressed health equity as it relates to the mammoth Medicare program. The plan focused on six areas, including meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens and enhancing the ability of health care workers to provide quality care. The agency hopes to reduce health disparities in a four-year period. The plan was debuted at a government conference, commemorating the 50th anniversaries of Medicaid and Medicare.

Strides were made toward healthcare equity for seniors in 1985 as well, when HHS secretary Margaret Heckler release findings of her task force on minority and Black health. These findings set the goals for reducing health disparities, and Heckler referred to the disparities as “an affront both to our ideals and to the ongoing genius of American medicine.” Since that time, not enough progress has been made.

For example, according to the Detroit Medical Center, the death rate for seniors in Detroit, a city that is more than 80 percent Black, is 48 percent higher than the rest of Michigan. Around 15 percent of Michigan’s residents are Black, and seniors in Detroit are hospitalized 43 percent times more than seniors in other parts of the state. Detroit seniors tend to have an average of three chronic conditions, as opposed to an average of two chronic conditions among seniors in the rest of the U.S.

“Making sure care is equitable is often the forgotten core area of focus for ensuring that the health system is meeting patient need and delivering high quality care,” said Cara James, the director of the CMS of Minority Health.

CMS plans to focus on recipients of Medicare who have disproportionately high incidences of disease, along with low-quality and obstacles that compromise access to care. These recipients include ethnic and racial minorities, as well as gender and sexual minorities, seniors with disabilities and seniors who live in rural areas.

The organization also plans to improve communication with individuals who don’t speak English fluently, as well as those who are disabled, so that these seniors can receive adequate access to health facilities.

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