Medicare Beneficiaries Highlight Disparities in COVID-19 Treatment Prescriptions, New Study Shows

Boston, MA – A recent study published in the JAMA Health Forum reveals that a significant number of nonhospitalized Medicare enrollees infected with COVID-19, but at low risk for severe disease, received drugs to combat the disease in 2022. This has raised concerns about the allocation of resources and the effectiveness of public health strategies aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.

The Harvard-led research team analyzed claims data to determine rates of prescriptions for various oral and intravenous antiviral medications among Medicare beneficiaries. The study found that the prescribing rates varied among different demographic groups, with disparities based on race, age, and residential location.

One of the most concerning findings was the difference in prescribing rates between patients at higher risk for severe illness and those at lower risk. For example, the study revealed that patients aged 65 to 69 years were more likely to receive treatment compared to those aged 90 and older. Similarly, nursing home residents were less likely to receive medication than those living in the community. These disparities highlight the need for a more equitable distribution of antiviral treatments.

Furthermore, the study estimated that a reallocation of COVID-19 treatment based on the risk for severe infection could have prevented thousands of COVID-related deaths. This suggests that a more strategic approach to prescribing antiviral medications could significantly impact the outcomes for high-risk patients.

The study also shed light on the disparities in access to healthcare and treatment among historically underserved groups, including Black, Hispanic, and low-income patients. The findings suggest that structural barriers, biases among clinicians, and patient preferences may all contribute to the unequal distribution of COVID-19 treatments.

In response to these findings, the study authors emphasized the need for medical practices and healthcare systems to examine their care patterns. Addressing the barriers to access for at-risk COVID-19 patients is crucial for ensuring that all individuals receive timely and appropriate treatment. These efforts will be essential in addressing the disparities revealed by the study and improving the overall public health response to the ongoing pandemic.