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Racial and ethnic disparities in the provision of epidural analgesia to Georgia Medicaid beneficiaries during labor and delivery.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to measure racial and ethnic differences in the proportion of Medicaid patients who receive epidural analgesia during labor and delivery.

STUDY DESIGN: Using 1998 Georgia Medicaid claims data in a standard State Medicaid Research File format, we identified claims for epidural analgesia among all women who had a normal vaginal delivery during 1998.

RESULTS: There were 29,833 women who met our inclusion criteria, of whom 15,936 (53.4%) had epidural analgesia. Epidural analgesia rates were lower for black women (49.5%), Hispanic women (35.3%), and Asian women (48.1%) than for white, non-Hispanic women (59.6%; P<.001). Rural women had lower epidural rates (39.2%) than urban women (62.1%).

CONCLUSION: The study subjects all had identical Medicaid insurance and met the same low-income Medicaid eligibility criteria, yet race/ethnicity was still a significant predictor of epidural analgesia after we had controlled for age, rural-urban residence, and availability of anesthesiologists. Further studies are needed to assess perceived benefits, risks, costs, and obstacles to epidural analgesia that are perceived by patients, physicians, nurses, and midwives.

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