MONDAY, June 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanics became much more likely to take their heart medicines after Medicare's prescription drug benefit plan was launched in 2006. But there was only a small increase seen among black patients, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed U.S. government data to identify trends in the four years after the drug plan -- formally called Medicare Part D -- was introduced. Patients in all racial groups were more likely to take their prescribed heart medicines, with increases of 60 percent among Hispanics, 47 percent among whites, and 9 percent among blacks.
This resulted in a more than 15 percent decrease in the heart drug adherence gap between Hispanics and whites. However, the gap between blacks and whites increased by more than 5 percent, according to the study, which was to be presented Monday at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting in Baltimore.
"Medication adherence is important because patients with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes who often don't stick with their medicines are at greater risk for problems including heart attack, stroke and heart failure," study author Mustafa Hussein, a pre-doctoral fellow in health outcomes and policy research at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tenn., said in an AHA news release.
"We suspect that medication adherence disparities play a significant role in minority patients' rapid development of high blood pressure and heart disease," Hussein added.
The differences in heart drug adherence between blacks and Hispanics may be due to a number of reasons, the researchers noted. Hispanics may have been more aware of the drug benefit's launch due to their prior use of drug discount card programs, and are more likely to use the Part D low-income subsidy and to be enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, which offer their own drug coverage.
"Health care providers should collaborate in creative ways to empower minorities to overcome issues that can interfere with their health care and medication adherence, such as stress, depression, financial problems and lack of family or social support," Hussein said.
"We really need to think more about social disadvantage as the big picture that contributes to all the disparities to health outcomes, not just adherence," he concluded.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health explains how to reduce heart risks.