One health equity definition is the idea that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, regardless of their circumstances. For health equity to exist, we must eliminate obstacles to health. Some of these obstacles arise because of discrimination based on race, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, where someone lives or socioeconomic status.
People who experience discrimination and its consequences can struggle with and lack access to stable housing, transportation or consistent employment with fair wages. When these basic needs aren’t met, people are much more likely to experience poor health including chronic diseases and mental illness. Health companies play a pivotal role in advancing health equity and creating a system that makes it a priority.
Why Is Health Equity Important?
Health equity is important to understand because many factors contribute to a person’s health beyond access to high-quality, comprehensive healthcare. “Decades of data show that 80% of health is determined by what happens outside the doctor’s office, also called the social drivers of health,” said Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, chief health officer at Elevance Health. “These social drivers include where we live, our ability to access nutritious food, our ability to secure a steady income, and community support. Increasingly, health is determined more by the zip code we live in than the doctor we see.”
What is included in health equity? There are many factors, including some that you might not think about. For people who live in rural areas, for example, the closest medical clinic may be far away, so they need childcare, transportation to travel to and from the doctor, and time off from work for the office visit. People who live in areas that are considered “food deserts”— both urban and rural — don’t have easy access to grocery stores that offer affordable, fresh and nutritious food. People for whom English is a second language and people who are deaf may need an interpreter at their medical visits. These obstacles can make it harder to stay healthy.
What Are Health Disparities?
Health disparities refer to the differences in the opportunities that people have to be as healthy as they possibly can — differences that lead to unfair and avoidable differences in health outcomes. One example of this is the racial inequities and imbalance in access to healthcare among the U.S. Black population that cause disproportionately higher rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease than those in the White population. In addition, Black mothers are at least three times more likely to die in childbirth than White mothers, and Black Americans have the highest rates of PTSD of all races.
To eliminate health disparities, we must make it easier for people to get quality healthcare — and that requires removing the obstacles to social and economic resources. “It may seem obvious, but the quality of your healthcare improves when you can get that care on your terms,” said Bryony Winn, president of Health Solutions. “While much needs to be done, for some groups of people and for some conditions, we have made big strides in breaking down barriers to care with innovations like telehealth.”
According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index, major depression and anxiety in Black and Hispanic/Latino communities are underdiagnosed at rates of 32-40% less, but that may be improving: During the initial shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 40% of our Hispanic/Latino Medicaid members with preexisting behavioral health conditions had a telehealth visit.
Why Do We Need Health Equity?
Everyone deserves to be as healthy as possible. In addition, the cost of health disparities is tremendous. Disparities amount to approximately $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity per year, as well as additional economic loss due to premature deaths. Elevance Health is dedicated to advancing health equity so all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and geographic or financial access can receive culturally competent, individualized care that brings them their most optimal level of health.