The COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities highlighted longstanding and significant health disparities faced by people of color. Within the Medicare population, people of color are more likely to report being in “relatively poor health, hav[ing] higher prevalence rates of some chronic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes than White beneficiaries.” In an effort to learn more about the experiences of Black and Latinx older adults, The Commonwealth Fund published findings from a dozen focus groups held with 44 Black and 44 Latinx people 65 and older, with varying degrees of health and socioeconomic status levels, between July and October 2021. As such, the results only reflect these two Medicare populations and cannot be applied to experiences of other races and ethnicities.
Some key takeaways include:
- Discrimination and bias experienced by older Black and Latinx adults were multifaceted, with factors such “race, ethnic background, language, age, gender, income, or insurance coverage” impacting perceived discrimination.
- The manifestations of discrimination were also varied, including harmful assumptions, poor communication, and feeling ignored. One focus group attendee noted, “They assume because you’re African American your health doesn’t matter … that you drink, you smoke, you do this, you eat fast food, you eat that.”
- The negative health care experiences can impact how older Black and Latinx adults view and interact with the health care system. Some individuals explained that they didn’t “feel comfortable with speaking openly and sharing information with their providers.”
Suggestions for improving the health care system:
- Strive to have a health care workforce that resembles the people they serve. Having providers who can relate to lived experiences and have a shared identity would help older Black and Latinx beneficiaries feel more comfortable.
- Hold providers accountable for discrimination. Recommendations range from requiring more training on implicit bias and discrimination to penalizing providers who discriminate against patients
- Address language barriers by providing better access to interpretation services and ensuring health information is offered in multiple languages.
August 25, 2022 – C. St. John
Ndugga, N., & Artiga, S. Disparities in Health and Health Care: 5 Key Questions and Answers. KFF. (May 11, 2021). Available at: https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/disparities-in-health-and-health-care-5-key-question-and-answers/
 Ochieng, N., Cubanski, J., Neuman, T., Artiga, S., & Damico, A. Racial and Ethnic Health Inequities and Medicare. KFF. (February 16, 2021). Available at: https://www.kff.org/medicare/report/racial-and-ethnic-health-inequities-and-medicare/
 Horstman, C., Seervai, S., Perry, M., Jacobson, G., Lewis, C., & Zephyrin, L. What an Ideal Health Care System Might Look Like. Ideal Health Care System: Perspectives Older Black & Latinx Adults | Commonwealth Fund. (July 21, 2022). Available at: https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/2022/jul/what-ideal-health-care-system-might-look-like#methods