BACKGROUND: Among patients with diabetes, racial differences in cardiometabolic risk factor control are common. The extent to which differences in medication adherence contribute to such disparities is not known. We examined whether medication adherence, controlling for treatment intensification, could explain differences in risk factor control between black and white patients with diabetes. METHODS: We identified three cohorts of black and white patients treated with oral medications and who had poor risk factor control at baseline (2009): those with glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) >8 % (n = 37,873), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) >100 mg/dl (n = 27,954), and systolic blood pressure (SBP) >130 mm Hg (n = 63,641). Subjects included insured adults with diabetes who were receiving care in one of nine U.S. integrated health systems comprising the SUrveillance, PREvention, and ManagEment of Diabetes Mellitus (SUPREME-DM) consortium. Baseline and follow-up risk factor control, sociodemographic, and clinical characteristics were obtained from electronic health records. Pharmacy-dispensing data were used to estimate medication adherence (i.e., medication refill adherence [MRA]) and treatment intensification (i.e., dose increase or addition of new medication class) between baseline and follow-up. County-level income and educational attainment were estimated via geocoding. Logistic regression models were used to test the association between race and follow-up risk factor control. Models were specified with and without medication adherence to evaluate its role as a mediator. RESULTS: We observed poorer medication adherence among black patients than white patients (p < 0.01): 50.6 % of blacks versus 39.7 % of whites were not highly adherent (i.e., MRA <80 %) to HbA1c oral medication(s); 58.4 % of blacks and 46.7 % of whites were not highly adherent to lipid medication(s); and 33.4 % of blacks and 23.7 % of whites were not highly adherent to BP medication(s). Across all cardiometabolic risk factors, blacks were significantly less likely to achieve control (p < 0.01): 41.5 % of blacks and 45.8 % of whites achieved HbA1c <8 %; 52.6 % of blacks and 60.8 % of whites achieved LDL-C <100; and 45.7 % of blacks and 53.6 % of whites achieved SBP <130. Adjusting for medication adherence/treatment intensification did not alter these patterns or model fit statistics. CONCLUSIONS: Medication adherence failed to explain observed racial differences in the achievement of HbA1c, LDL-C, and SBP control among insured patients with diabetes.