Elderly blacks on Medicare more likely to go without medication

WASHINGTON -- Elderly blacks on Medicare are more than twice as likely as whites to go without prescription drugs, says a study by a public research group.

Medicare does not cover most prescription medicines given outside a hospital. It is this gap in coverage that Congress is working to fill.

The study, being released today, is more evidence of the racial gulf in health and health coverage, and points out that the prescription drug legislation could help remedy the problem.

"There's no question that the lack of Medicare prescription drug coverage falls disproportionately on African-American seniors," said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, which conducted the study.

The study is based on a 2001 survey of 60,000 people, including about 7,770 elderly Medicare recipients.

It found that 16.4 percent of elderly blacks reported they could not afford to fill at least one prescription in the previous year. The rate among whites was 6.8 percent.

Researchers found that nearly half of the gap is attributable to differences in income, supplemental insurance and chronic conditions. As a group, whites are wealthier, more likely to have private insurance and less likely to have chronic conditions.

A small portion of the gap can be explained by factors such as gender, age, family size and education.