Medical Expenditure Panel Survey: A valuable database for studying racial and ethnic disparities in prescription drug use

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Abstract

Background

Despite the importance of equal access to prescription drugs by racial and ethnic groups, studies on access to prescription drugs have been incomprehensive.

Objective

To describe the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) as a valuable data source to study racial and ethnic disparities in prescription drug use.

Methods

Use of the MEPS database to study disparities in prescription drug use is detailed. This includes strengths and limitations of the database, as well as key methodological, sampling, and statistical issues to consider when using it.

Results

Using MEPS allows researchers to control for sociodemographic and health status information when studying racial and ethnic disparities in prescription drug use. MEPS has taken measures to improve reliability of the information on the utilization of prescription drugs. An additional benefit of MEPS is that it has oversampled Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians; as such, it affords the statistical power to examine these minority groups. One limitation of MEPS is the inability of researchers to study some drug categories, because of limitations in statistical power. Moreover, the names of the prescription medications are not standardized in MEPS, and some information is not publicly available in MEPS databases. When conducting studies requiring information not publicly available, researchers may commute to the MEPS Data Center or may request the Data Center to run statistical programs for them.

Conclusions

Using MEPS to study racial and ethnic disparities in prescription drug use has significant benefits. Nonetheless, researchers need to keep in mind the limitations of using MEPS.

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