Cummings asks Medicare to close gap in medical treatment for blacks, whites

August 19, 2005|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings called on Medicare yesterday to take action to close the gap between medical treatment given to whites and African-Americans under the nation's health care program for the elderly.

The Baltimore Democrat wrote Dr. Mark B. McClellan, Medicare's top administrator, after three studies published in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine detailed persistent disparate treatment for blacks, who get fewer tests and surgeries than whites despite evidence that they are at greater risk for some diseases.

One of the studies showed Baltimore-area black men enrolled in Medicare were 63 percent less likely than white men in the area to get heart bypass surgery. Area black female enrollees were 30 percent less likely to have the surgery than white women. The data were from 1999-2001.

"I ask you to respond to this finding," Cummings wrote, referring to the study that produced that data. "What can account for such obvious racial bias in the provision of care to elderly African-Americans, and what steps do you intend to take to eliminate this bias?"

Medicare spokeswoman Mary Kahn said she hadn't seen the letter, but that the federal program contracts with outside organizations to help ensure quality care.

She also said the program intends to award grants by the end of the year to support previously announced projects to improve early detection and treatment of cancer and reduce health disparities among minority Medicare enrollees.

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