Advocate for Yourself as a Person of Color on Medicare’ can be condensed to ‘Advocate for Yourself on Medicare as a Person of Color’.

Advocate for Yourself as a Person of Color on Medicare' can be condensed to 'Advocate for Yourself on Medicare as a Person of Color'.

Advocating for Yourself: Navigating Medicare as a Person of Color


Medicare, a state-run program that provides health insurance to individuals aged 65 and older, has undoubtedly improved access to doctors and health insurance for many. However, it’s important to acknowledge that racial and ethnic disparities in medical care still persist. Marginalized communities continue to face greater burdens in terms of illnesses and economic challenges. According to Muriel Jean-Jacques, MD, Associate Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, “Medicare has helped tremendously to level the playing field, but there are still some holes that extend beyond insurance coverage or cost.”

If you’re a person of color on Medicare, don’t fret. There are proactive steps you can take to ensure you receive good medical care. In this article, we will provide you with valuable insights and actionable advice to help you advocate for yourself effectively.

Asking for Help Paying for Medical Care

Many older people of color live with long-term or serious medical conditions. Unfortunately, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, Black or Hispanic individuals are less likely to have savings or supplemental insurance coverage to afford out-of-pocket costs related to their health problems. Moreover, people of color often face greater economic challenges and additional barriers due to racism.

Muriel Jean-Jacques emphasizes the importance of addressing financial difficulties openly with your doctor. Your care team can assist you in finding ways to cover costs without interrupting your healthcare. Many individuals go years without proper medication or treatment due to financial constraints. However, support programs are available that can help you access medication more affordably.

To explore potential assistance programs, ask to speak with a social worker or health advocate at your hospital or doctor’s office. They are knowledgeable about national and local programs that can provide the support you need. Here are some options they might suggest:

  • Prescription assistance: Apart from Medicare Part D, which many older people choose, there are other programs that can help cover medication costs. These may include Medicare’s Part D “Extra Help” low-income subsidy, state assistance programs, drug manufacturers’ assistance programs, and drug discount cards.

  • Extra health coverage: It’s essential to understand that traditional Medicare may not cover all your healthcare expenses. Consider adding a private health insurance plan or supplemental coverage (Medigap) to mitigate out-of-pocket costs. Explore your options and find the best plan that suits your needs.

  • Medicaid eligibility: Some individuals are “dual eligible,” meaning they qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid based on their income. Check whether you meet the criteria for low-income health coverage through or

Learning More About How to Make Medicare Work for You

Understanding your Medicare benefits can significantly empower you to advocate for yourself. While your doctor may provide some basic information, it’s often beneficial to consult with a social worker or a licensed Medicare broker approved by the National Council on Aging. They can provide comprehensive insights into your specific health needs. Additionally, you may find answers to the following questions helpful:

  • Is my cane or wheelchair covered?
  • How can I get meals paid for?
  • Who can help me pay my rent and utilities?
  • Can I access low- or no-cost transportation services?
  • What medical benefits does Medicare provide?
  • What are the out-of-pocket costs, and how much should I expect to pay annually?
  • Can I obtain supportive equipment through my Medicare benefits?

Feel free to ask any questions that concern you. For instance, if you need assistance moving around your living space, inquire about getting a walker covered under Medicare. Remember, you don’t have to have every possible question in mind when speaking with a benefits adviser. Your healthcare team should work with you to navigate the complexities of the system.

Finding a Doctor You Trust

While it may not always be possible to see a doctor of the same race or ethnicity, many individuals feel more comfortable when they do. However, it’s important to focus on finding a compassionate provider who treats you with respect and empathy. According to Muriel Jean-Jacques, a compassionate doctor or nurse should:

  • Say hello when they walk in.
  • Call you by name and make eye contact.
  • Treat you as a partner in your medical care.
  • Provide clear advice on all treatment options.
  • Validate your symptoms and concerns.

Your doctor should fully understand how your symptoms impact your daily life. Therefore, self-advocacy becomes crucial in ensuring your concerns are addressed.

How to Advocate for Yourself

According to Abbe Udochi, a certified senior adviser and board member of the Aging Life Care Association, older people of color often feel dismissed and demeaned during doctor visits, especially Black women. Udochi highlights the importance of making the most of your medical appointments. One effective strategy is to have someone accompany you. Whether it’s a family member, friend, church member, or professional advocate like a geriatric care manager, having an extra set of eyes and ears can be immensely helpful, particularly if you feel nervous, unwell, or have multiple medical issues.

“As we age, it can be more challenging to speak up and defend yourself,” says Udochi. Additionally, factors like vision problems, hearing problems, or mild cognitive decline can make it difficult to fully comprehend what takes place during appointments. This is when having support becomes a necessity.

When interacting with your provider, pay attention to how well they pay attention to you. Are they answering your questions directly? Are they explaining things in a way that you understand? Do they provide adequate responses to your complaints or health issues? If not, speak up. Bias exists in many institutions, including healthcare. It is crucial for older people of color to advocate for themselves when they feel their provider isn’t taking their health concerns seriously. Moreover, your support person can act as a strong advocate on your behalf, ensuring your concerns are properly addressed and resolved.

Remember, your health matters, and advocating for yourself within the healthcare system is essential. By understanding available financial assistance, learning about your Medicare benefits, finding a trustworthy doctor, and confidently advocating for your needs, you can enhance your overall healthcare experience and ensure that you receive the quality care you deserve.