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A Resource Guide for Using Medicare's Enrollment Race and Ethnicity Data


The race and ethnicity data in Medicare's enrollment data have limitations, but can still be used in important health equity work if those limitations are recognized and accounted for during analysis.


Medicare is an essential part of the Nation's health care system, with 66 million people enrolled. The COVID-19 pandemic brought persistent disparities in health care access and outcomes to the forefront, including in the Medicare program. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have made advancing health equity a top priority. In order to address health disparities, it is important to assess them using accurate, complete, and comprehensive data. The results of these analyses can be used to tailor interventions aimed at improving disparities. The data can then be used to evaluate the efficacy of these interventions. Ultimately, success in advancing health equity hinges on a thorough understanding of the underlying data.

In June 2022, OIG issued a data brief, Inaccuracies in Medicare's Race and Ethnicity Data Hinder the Ability To Assess Health Disparities (OEI-02-21-00100), analyzing the quality of the race and ethnicity data for people enrolled in Medicare. That data brief makes constructive recommendations to CMS for improving the data.

As CMS works to implement these recommendations, improvements are expected to take several years to yield better data for health disparities research. Until then, the existing data remain a vital source for understanding one of the largest Federal programs and conducting health equity work.


This resource guide is a tool that provides practical information about the race and ethnicity data for people enrolled in Medicare. Specifically, using information derived from the prior data brief, it provides a concise, user-friendly explanation of the origins and limitations of Medicare's enrollment race and ethnicity data and offers considerations for the use of these data.

This guide is for public and private sector users of Medicare data, such as researchers, managed care organizations, Congress, and others, involved in health equity work.