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Minority Asthma Patients Use ERs Most

 LITTLETON, CO - Aetna leaders presented the findings of a new study today at the Academy for Health Equity Conference in Littleton, Colorado. The study looked at the differences in the use of the emergency room (ER) by minority populations suffering from asthma and the potential to improve health outcomes and cost savings by addressing disparities in asthma ER visits. Results of the research showed that African American members had significantly higher rates of potentially avoidable ER visits than whites. African American adults and children had nearly three times the annualized ER visits per 1,000 for asthma compared to whites. This led to significantly higher costs due to potentially avoidable ER visits for both children and adult members with asthma.

Similarly, the study's results indicated that Hispanic members had higher rates of potentially avoidable adverse events than Whites, though not as high as those for African American members with asthma. Hispanic adults and children had nearly twice the annualized ER visits per 1,000 for asthma compared to whites. As with African Americans, this higher ER visit rate was associated with higher ER costs.

"While preventing asthma occurrences that lead to ER visits certainly makes economic sense, more importantly, controlling asthma and keeping the condition 'in check' can greatly improve the lives of the people who are afflicted," said Wayne Rawlins, M.D., M.B.A., national medical director, racial and ethnic equality initiatives at Aetna.

"Our study results showed the high level of unequal care, as well as the tremendous amount of waste in the health care system," noted Rawlins. "Preventing visits to the ER for asthma patients can improve health care quality and decrease medical costs. If we can find ways to make sure that members with asthma have what they need to follow their recommended treatment plans, many of the visits to the ER for this condition could be avoided," he added. Asthma is a potentially life-threatening respiratory condition that affects more than 22 million people in the United States.

Rawlins said, "At Aetna, we take every step to enable our members to receive high quality health care regardless of race or ethnicity. Addressing the persistent challenges of disparities in health care for minorities can lead to better health outcomes for these populations."

The company's study was conducted among Aetna members who had self-reported their race/ethnicity for whom there was evidence of asthma in medical or pharmacy claims during 2008.

This study is one of several made possible by Aetna's pioneering and award-winning step in 2002 to begin the voluntary collection of race and ethnicity data from members. As of 2010, the company has more than six million currently active members who have volunteered this information.

"The collection of this data gives Aetna a better understanding of its member population, enabling the company to deliver on its longstanding commitment to improving racial and ethnic equality in health care," Rawlins said. "Not only can we conduct studies of health and health care trends, but using this information can allow us to create effective health management programs and services, and deliver those programs to the right members who need and will benefit from them."

Conference brings together leading experts

A "poster presentation" on the study will be given at the Academy for Health Equity (AHE) conference by Rawlins and Michele Toscano, MS, program manager, racial and ethnic equality initiatives at Aetna.

"We are pleased to participate in this conference, which offers a forum to share our learning on the usage of the emergency room by minority populations with asthma. Understanding the magnitude of this problem will allow us, and others in the health care field, to develop solutions to reduce this disparity," said Rawlins.

The overarching theme of the AHE conference, which runs from August 18-20, is "Achieving Health Equity in an Era of Health Care Reform." The conference agenda will cover the latest research and applications as they pertain to health disparities and inequities during this critical period of health care reform. This year's focus is a renewal of AHE's commitment to helping underserved communities thrive in this new era. The three-day conference includes presentations from leading experts from various disciplines in the field of health equity, from government and academia to non-profits and the private sector.

About the Academy for Health Equity

The Academy for Health Equity is a nonprofit, multidisciplinary, professional membership organization dedicated to the elimination of health disparities through the achievement of health equity. The organization's mission is to utilize rigorous scientific research, policy development, and community advocacy to eliminate health disparities and create a social movement designed to ensure equal opportunity for health. 

About Aetna

Aetna is one of the nation's leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 35.8 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. 

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