April 10, 2020

Warren, Markey, Pressley Call on CMS to Release Demographic Data of Medicare Beneficiaries Treated for COVID-19

Data Can Be Used to Track Spread of Virus and Address Racial Disparities in Testing and Treatment

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calling on the agency to immediately release racial and ethnic data of Medicare beneficiaries who are tested or hospitalized for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

"As preliminary evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic is causing disproportionate harm in communities of color, it is essential to bring to bear all the data collected by the federal government to identify and support affected communities," the lawmakers wrote. "Medicare claims data are an invaluable source of information in tracking the spread of the virus and the characteristics of COVID-19 patients."

Communities of color are likely to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. People of color are more likely to have chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications from the virus, and people of color and immigrants are also less likely to be insured. Meanwhile, many communities of color face shortages of healthcare providers, making it difficult to access appropriate and timely care. Moreover, socioeconomic factors make it more difficult for people of color to practice social distancing and protect themselves from exposure, as people of color are more likely to work in low-wage jobs that cannot be done remotely and to have fewer financial resources to draw on in the event of health problems or economic disruption.

CMS regularly collects Medicare claims data that includes diagnostic codes for the beneficiary's condition as well as treatment actions and outcomes, including hospitalizations and deaths. This data includes information about the beneficiary's race and ethnicity, gender, and region of the country that can be used to identify and track health disparities.

In their letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, the lawmakers cited preliminary data released by states and localities that show evidence of these disparities in COVID-19 outcomes, and urged CMS to immediately release the data on COVID-19 testing, treatment and fatalities, broken down by race and ethnicity, gender, and area of the country.

"As this crisis evolves, we must continue to closely track disparities in testing and treatment to control the virus's transmission and ensure equitable access to life-saving care, as well as to vaccine, when it becomes available," the lawmakers continued.

The lawmakers also acknowledged Administrator Verma's commitment to releasing Medicare claims data of this nature in a White House press briefing this week, and urged her to make  this data public on a weekly basis throughout the duration of the coronavirus public health emergency.

Last month, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Pressley led their colleagues in urging the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and publicly release racial and ethnic demographic data on testing and treatment for COVID-19 in order to identify and address racial disparities.