A health disparity is defined as having a worse health status within a distinct group of people as a result of systematic disadvantages due to differences in gender, race, ethnicity, education, literacy, income level, language, culture, age, sexual orientation, disability or geographic location.
Health equity is the pursuit of the elimination of such health disparities.
Some of the factors that contribute to health disparities are low health literacy, language barriers, cultural beliefs and practices, access to quality care, bias in the medical profession and social determinants to care such as physical environment or educational achievement. Individually and collectively these factors can present preventable health care barriers to certain populations from achieving optimal health status and outcomes.
Despite significant improvement to overall health outcomes over the past decade, many subpopulations, including low income communities, continue to experience substantial health disparities. As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, it is increasingly important to address health disparities.¹
Most of the U.S. population growth since 1960s has been non-white.² And, currently there are more Hispanic, Black and Asian babies being born than white babies.³
Which States Will Become Majority Minority?
Majority Minority Country
As the U.S. becomes increasingly more diverse, it’s no surprise that Cigna's clients reflect this diversity within their workforces. This demographic shift requires different health service models to offer culturally-responsive care. We know that to be a more effective health advocate for our customers, we need to understand cultural differences, recognize changing population demographics and address gaps in care relative to health disparities. In addition to the rise of ethnic/racial minority populations, Cigna is aware of how health disparities may affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations, and we are working to minimize these disparities through education and awareness as part of our Diversity and Inclusion programs.
Working to eliminate health disparities is the right thing to do from both a social justice and business perspective. Disparities can result in worsened health outcomes, added health care costs, lost work productivity and premature death.
Many opportunities exist for the public and private sectors – including Cigna as a leading health service company – to help close the gaps between health disparity and health equity in the United States. Our company is committed to cultivating a state of health equity in the marketplace – deploying strategic and operational resources to improve access to high-quality health care.
For nearly 10 years, Cigna has been a key stakeholder at the national level with active participation in the National Health Plan Collaborative (NHPC) sharing best practices related to health disparities and equitable health care with other health plans, employer groups and clients. Cigna also works closely with employers, consumers and health advocates in the public and private sectors to eliminate the health disparities that continue to plague far too many people and populations.
Close to a decade ago, Cigna formed our Health Equity Council. This Council is led by over two dozen influential leaders across the enterprise who commit to over 50 new actions each year to improve health equity. The Health Equity Council’s strategic plan is based on the following five pillars: Awareness, Leadership, Data/Research & Evaluation, Health Care Services and Cultural and Linguistic Competence.
Cigna’s efforts have been recognized by the National Business Group on Health with their Award for Innovation in Reducing Health Care Disparities and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Medallion of Honor for exceptional achievements that advance the cause of public health and medicine.
In 2017, we are focused on:
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Minority Population Profiles, Office of Minority Health
4 Focus on Health Care Disparities, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, December 2012
5 Incidence: NAACCR, 2015. Mortality: US mortality data, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. American Cancer Society, Inc., Surveillance Research, 2015.