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Jacob Wallace Publications

Publish Date
Discussion Paper

Political affiliation has emerged as a potential risk factor for COVID-19, amid evidence that Republican-leaning counties have had higher COVID-19 death rates than Democrat- leaning counties and evidence of a link between political party affiliation and vaccination views. This study constructs an individual-level dataset with political affiliation and excess death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic via a linkage of 2017 voter registration in Ohio and Florida to mortality data from 2018 to 2021. We estimate substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available in our study states. Overall, the excess death rate for Republicans was 5.4 percentage points (pp), or 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democrats. Post- vaccines, the excess death rate gap between Republicans and Democrats widened from 1.6 pp (22% of the Democrat excess death rate) to 10.4 pp (153% of the Democrat excess death rate). The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available.

JAMA Network Open

This cross-sectional study uses regression discontinuity to compare racial and ethnic disparities before and after age 65 years, the age at which US adults are eligible for Medicare. There are a total of 2 434 320 respondents in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and 44 587 state-age-year observations in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research Data (eg, the mortality rate for individuals age 63 years in New York in 2017) from January 2008 to
December 2018. The data were analyzed between February and May 2021. Proportions of respondents with health insurance, as well as self-reported health and mortality. To examine access, whether respondents had a usual source of care, encountered cost-related barriers to care, or received influenza vaccines was assessed.

Immediately after age 65 years, insurance coverage increased more for Black respondents (from 86.3% to 95.8% or 9.5 percentage points; 95% CI, 7.6-11.4) and Hispanic respondents (from 77.4% to 91.3% or 13.9 percentage points; 95% CI, 12.0-15.8) than White respondents (from 92.0% to 98.5% or 6.5 percentage points; 95% CI, 6.1-7.0). This was associated with a 53% reduction compared with the size of the disparity between White and Black individuals before age 65 years (5.7% to 2.7% or 3.0 percentage points; 95% CI, 0.9-5.1; P = .003) and a 51% reduction compared with the size of the disparity between White and Hispanic individuals before age 65 years (14.6% to 7.2% or 7.4 percentage points; 95% CI, 5.3-9.5; P < .001). Medicare eligibility was associated with narrowed disparities between White and Hispanic individuals in access to care, lowering disparities in access to a usual source of care from 10.5% to 7.5% (P = .05), cost-related barriers to care from 11.4% to 6.9% (P < .001), and influenza vaccination rates from 8.1% to 3.3% (P = .01). For disparities between White and Black individuals, access to a usual source of care before and after age 65 years was not significantly different: 1.2% to 0.0% (P = .24), cost-related barriers to care from 5.8% to 4.3% (P = .22), and influenza vaccinations from 11.0% to 10.3% (P = .60). The share of people in poor self-reported health decreased by 3.8 percentage points for Hispanic respondents, 2.6 percentage points for Black respondents, and 0.2 percentage points for White respondents. Mortality-related disparities at age 65 years were unchanged. Medicare’s association with reduced disparities largely persisted after the US Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014.