CMS shines light on health disparities between older 'sexual minorities' and 'sexual majorities'

Yena Son, Health Disparities Initiative

CMS' Office of Minority Health recently released a report that highlighted stark differences in health between older adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and those who identify as heterosexual.

The report examined national data on differences in 15 health characteristics of adults age 65 and older who self-identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual—whom CMS defined as "sexual minorities"—and who self-identified as heterosexual/straight, whom CMS defined as "sexual majorities."

The data revealed statistically significant differences in some health characteristics between sexual minority and sexual majority individuals. Although the analysis was limited by the small number of respondents in the sexual minority group, CMS' findings suggest avenues for future research in this area.

CMS shines a new light on older sexual minority populations

While previous studies have examined health disparities between sexual minority and sexual majority populations, most of the research focused on adults under the age of 65. CMS' report broke new ground in its focus on adults aged 65 years and older.

CMS found that sexual minorities were more likely to report that they were in "excellent" or "very good" health, had received an influenza vaccine within the past year, or had been tested for HIV. However, sexual minority respondents also were more likely to report that they had drunk five or more alcoholic beverages in one day at least once in the past year.

Several health characteristics showed no statistically significant differences between the sexual minority and sexual majority groups, including the rate of current smoking, obesity, and difficulties with eyesight. And a similar percentage (around 96 percent) of respondents in both groups reported having a usual source for medical care.

The larger picture

The CMS analysis combined gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents into a single group due to data limitations, but the authors note that important differences may exist between these groups that could be observable with more data.

The report itself points to an increased focus on sexual minority health by CMS. Healthy People 2020—a federal 10-year initiative aimed at improving health nationwide—launched in 2010 and, for the first time, included as a key goal improving the health of those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

CMS' findings could have important implications for providers. Minority populations are growing in size and their access to care is expanding, while provider revenues are increasingly dependent on high-quality care and reduced costs.

How to address health inequity in your community

With the shift in health care to focus on optimizing the health of individuals and communities, health care organizations are creating new strategies to address health care disparities in access and patient outcomes.

Advisory Board has created the Health Disparities Initiative, which provides actionable resources on a series of strategic imperatives and special topics to achieve equity of care. Interested in seeing research or resources that address your biggest health equity problems?

Download our resource, "Building Community Partnerships to Reduce Disparities," which includes studies featuring providers who have successfully partnered with community organizations to address health disparities and social determinants of health. You'll also find tools that can guide your organization’s community partnership strategy.


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