Flawed Medicare data hampering analysis of health disparities, inspector general says

Inaccuracies in Medicare's race and ethnicity data have hurt CMS' ability to assess health disparities, the HHS Office of the Inspector General said in a June 15 report. 

The office said it analyzed the race and ethnicity data in Medicare's enrollment database. The main source of the data comes from the Social Security Administration and the results of an algorithm that CMS applies to the source data. 

The office assessed the accuracy of Medicare enrollment race and ethnicity data for different groups by comparing them to self-reported data for a subset of beneficiaries who live in nursing homes. Self-reported race and ethnicity data is considered the most accurate, according to the report.

The analysis found that Medicare's race and ethnicity data is less accurate for certain groups, particularly for beneficiaries who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander or Hispanic. 

Medicare's enrollment data is inconsistent with federal data collection standards, and the inconsistencies "inhibit the work of identifying and improving health disparities within the Medicare population," according to the report. 

The office issued four recommendations to CMS:

1. CMS should develop its own source of race and ethnicity data

2. Use self-reported race and ethnicity information to improve data for current beneficiaries

3. Develop a process to ensure that the data is as standardized as possible

4. Educate beneficiaries about CMS efforts to improve the race and ethnicity information

CMS did not explicitly concur with the first recommendation, but concurred with the other three, according to the report. 

Read the full report here.

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