Evidence on COVID-19 Mortality and Disparities Using a Novel Measure, COVID excess mortality percentage: Evidence from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



PloS one








COVID-19 mortality rates increase rapidly with age, are higher among men than women, and vary across racial/ethnic groups, but this is also true for other natural causes of death. Prior research on COVID-19 mortality rates and racial/ethnic disparities in those rates has not considered to what extent disparities reflect COVID-19-specific factors, versus preexisting health differences. This study examines both questions. We study the COVID-19-related increase in mortality risk and racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 mortality, and how both vary with age, gender, and time period. We use a novel measure validated in prior work, the COVID Excess Mortality Percentage (CEMP), defined as the COVID-19 mortality rate (Covid-MR), divided by the non-COVID natural mortality rate during the same time period (non-Covid NMR), converted to a percentage. The CEMP denominator uses Non-COVID NMR to adjust COVID-19 mortality risk for underlying population health. The CEMP measure generates insights which differ from those using two common measures-the COVID-MR and the all-cause excess mortality rate. By studying both CEMP and COVID-MRMR, we can separate the effects of background health from Covid-specific factors affecting COVID-19 mortality. We study how CEMP and COVID-MR vary by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and time period, using data on all adult decedents from natural causes in Indiana and Wisconsin over April 2020-June 2022 and Illinois over April 2020-December 2021. CEMP levels for racial and ethnic minority groups can be very high relative to White levels, especially for Hispanics in 2020 and the first-half of 2021. For example, during 2020, CEMP for Hispanics aged 18-59 was 68.9% versus 7.2% for non-Hispanic Whites; a ratio of 9.57:1. CEMP disparities are substantial but less extreme for other demographic groups. Disparities were generally lower after age 60 and declined over our sample period. Differences in socio-economic status and education explain only a small part of these disparities.


Health Policy and Management