Doctor speaking with older couple during COVID-19 pandemic

A variety of factors led to disparities in healthcare for older people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marc Cohen, PhD, a gerontology professor and co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center at UMass Boston, led the research team, which looked at survey data on 12,838 people over the age of 50. The data was collected from 2014 to 2020. Of the people surveyed, 7,818 were white, 2,593 were non-Hispanic Black, 1,925 were Hispanic, and the rest were put into a single category. Only 10,091 people answered questions about COVID-19.

The data showed that the health of older adults of color was worse in general compared to white people during the pandemic. And Hispanic people had worse health compared to non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic white people. They were less able to access telehealth and therefore used it less. Older adults who were not white also had more delays receiving care compared to non-Hispanic white people. Hispanic people experienced the most delays compared to other groups. People of color said their care preferences were considered less than white people, the report stated. 

Before the pandemic, racial and wealth disparities determined whether older adults regularly received care that respected their wishes. This trend was unchanged in 2020, when the pandemic forced most people away from traditional care, driving more disparities in healthcare for older people. This is according to Rigo J. Saborio, vice president of programs, equity and community impact at The SCAN Foundation, which published the report this month.

“As this analysis demonstrates, the United States still has a long way to go to ensure its healthcare system serves all older adults equitably and considers their unique care preferences,” Saborio said.

“This knowledge is the backbone upon which policy and operations solutions should be built,” he added.