Document Type


Date of Original Version



Pharmacy Practice


The COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest pervading U.S. cities in response to the killings of George Floyd and other Black citizens at the hands of police are historically significant. These events exemplify dismaying truths about race and equality in the United States.

Racial health disparities are an inexcusable lesion on the U.S. health care system. Many health disparities involve medications, including antidepressants, anticoagulants, diabetes medications, drugs for dementia, and statins, to name a few. Managed care pharmacy has a role in perpetuating racial disparities in medication use. For example, pharmacy benefit designs are increasingly shifting costs of expensive medications to patients, creating affordability crises for lower income workers, who are disproportionally persons of color. In addition, the quest to maximize rebates serves to inflate list prices paid by the uninsured, among which Black and Hispanic people are over-represented. While medication cost is a foremost barrier for many patients, other factors also propagate racial disparities in medication use. Even when cost sharing is minimal or zero, medication adherence rates have been documented to be lower among Blacks as compared with Whites. Deeper understandings are needed about how racial disparities in medication use are influenced by factors such as culture, provider bias, and patient trust in medical advice.

Managed care pharmacy can address racial disparities in medication use in several ways. First, it should be acknowledged that racial disparities in medication use are pervasive and must be resolved urgently. We must not believe that entrenched health system, societal, and political structures are impermeable to change. Second, the voices of community members and their advocates must be amplified. Coverage policies, program designs, and quality initiatives should be developed in consultation with those directly affected by racial disparities. Third, the industry should commit to dramatically reducing patient cost sharing for essential medication therapies. Federal and state efforts to limit annual out-of-pocket pharmacy spending should be supported, even though increased premiums may be an undesirable (yet more equitable) consequence. Finally, information about race should be incorporated into all internal and external reporting and quality improvement activities.