Background Research on children and youth on the autism spectrum reveal racial and ethnic disparities in access to healthcare and utilization, but there is less research to understand how disparities persist as autistic adults age. We need to understand racial-ethnic inequities in obtaining eligibility for Medicare and/or Medicaid coverage, as well as inequities in spending for autistic enrollees under these public programs. Methods We conducted a cross-sectional cohort study of U.S. publicly-insured adults on the autism spectrum using 2012 Medicare-Medicaid Linked Enrollee Analytic Data Source (n = 172,071). We evaluated differences in race-ethnicity by eligibility (Medicare-only, Medicaidonly, Dual-Eligible) and spending. Findings The majority of white adults (49.87%) were full-dual eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. In contrast, only 37.53% of Black, 34.65% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 35.94% of Hispanic beneficiaries were full-dual eligible for Medicare and Medicare, with most only eligible for state-funded Medicaid. Adjusted logistic models controlling for gender, intellectual disability status, costly chronic condition, rural status, county median income, and geographic region of residence revealed that Black beneficiaries were significantly less likely than white beneficiaries to be dual-eligible across all ages. Across these three beneficiary types, total spending exceeded $10 billion. Annual total expenditures median expenditures for full-dual and Medicaid-only eligible beneficiaries were higher among white beneficiaries as compared with Black beneficiaries. Conclusions Public health insurance in the U.S. including Medicare and Medicaid aim to reduce inequities in access to healthcare that might exist due to disability, income, or old age. In contrast to these ideals, our study reveals that racial-ethnic minority autistic adults who were eligible for public insurance across all U.S. states in 2012 experience disparities in eligibility for specific programs and spending. We call for further evaluation of system supports that promote clear pathways to disability and public health insurance among those with lifelong developmental disabilities.
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