A recent Health Affairs article, “Racial And Ethnic Disparities In Buprenorphine Receipt Among Medicare Beneficiaries, 2015–19”, discussed a study that found racial and ethnic disparities in buprenorphine use, a highly effective treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). The study examined Medicare Part D claims from the period 2015–19 to identify disparities in buprenorphine receipt among Medicare disability beneficiaries with diagnosed opioid use disorder or opioid overdose. The study found Black Medicare disability beneficiaries had significantly lower rates of use of this particular medication than White disability beneficiaries. The study results demonstrated “wide and persistent racial and ethnic disparities in buprenorphine receipt, especially among Black Medicare disability beneficiaries, which may partly explain the increasing opioid overdose mortality among Black people during the study period.”
Some key points from the article:
- The percentage of Medicare disability beneficiaries with an OUD or opioid overdose diagnosis receiving buprenorphine increased from 2015 to 2019 for all racial and ethnic groups but remained below 25 percent for all groups in each year.
- The increase was most pronounced for American Indian/Alaska Native beneficiaries, increasing 193 percent versus 92 percent for Black, 62 percent for Hispanic, 66 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander, and 74 percent for White beneficiaries.
- Relative to White beneficiaries, buprenorphine receipt was lowest among Black beneficiaries, at 4.9 percent in 2015 (36 percent of the rate for Whites), without substantial improvement throughout the study period.
- Extreme disparity was especially prevalent among southeastern states, including states that have not expanded Medicaid (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas).
- Buprenorphine rates among older adults (ages sixty-five and older) increased from 2015 to 2019 for all racial and ethnic groups but remained strikingly low, below 9 percent, for all groups in each year. Disparities were less pronounced among older adults than among disability beneficiaries.
October 26, 2023 – K. Kertesz