The association between rurality, dual Medicare/Medicaid eligibility and chronic conditions with telehealth utilization: An analysis of 2019-2020 national Medicare claims.

Publication date: Feb 05, 2024

Telehealth services have the potential to increase healthcare access among underserved populations, such as rural residents and racial/ethnic minority groups. The COVID-19 public health emergency led to unprecedented growth in telehealth utilization, but evidence suggests the growth has not been equitable across all patient populations. This study aimed to explore whether telehealth utilization and expansion changed equitably from 2019 to 2020 among sub-groups of Medicare beneficiaries. We conducted an analysis of telehealth utilization among a 20% random sample of 2019-2020 Medicare beneficiaries on a national level. We fit multivariable logistic regression models and calculated average marginal effects (AME) to assess the association between demographic and clinical characteristics on telehealth utilization. We found telehealth utilization was less likely among non-Hispanic Black/African-American (2019: adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 0. 77, AME = -0. 15; 2020: aOR = 0. 85, AME = -3. 50) and Hispanic (2019: aOR = 0. 79, AME = -0. 13; 2020: aOR = 0. 87, AME = -2. 89) beneficiaries, relative to non-Hispanic White beneficiaries in both 2019 and 2020, with larger disparities in 2020. Rural beneficiaries were more likely to utilize telehealth than urban beneficiaries in 2019 (aOR = 2. 62, AME = 0. 84), but less likely in 2020 (aOR = 0. 57, AME = -14. 47). In both years, dually eligible Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries were more likely than non-dually eligible beneficiaries to utilize telehealth (2019: aOR = 4. 75, AME = 0. 84; 2020: aOR = 1. 34, AME = 2. 25). However, the effects of dual eligibility and rurality changed in both models as the number of chronic conditions increased. We found evidence of increasing disparities in telehealth utilization among several Medicare beneficiary sub-groups in 2020 relative to 2019, including individuals of minority race/ethnicity, rural residents, and dually eligible beneficiaries, with disparities increasing among individuals with more chronic conditions. Although telehealth has the potential to address health inequities, our findings suggest that many of the patients in greatest need of healthcare are least likely to utilize telehealth services.

Concepts Keywords
African chronic conditions
Hispanic COVID-19
Medicaid health equity
Rural Medicare
Telehealth

Semantics

Type Source Name
disease MESH chronic conditions
disease MESH COVID-19
disease MESH emergency
disease VO Equity

Original Article

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