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Achieving Health Equity and Reducing Disparities

As the U.S. workforce continues to be more racially and ethnically diverse, the cost of health and health care disparities also grows.

Source: Waidmann T. Estimating the cost of racial and ethnic health disparities. The Urban Institute. Sept. 2009.

People who live in mostly minority communities continue to have lower socioeconomic status, greater barriers to healthcare access, and greater risks for, and burden ofdisease compared with the general population living in the same county or state, according to the CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2013.1 National data indicate that by 2018, the total cost of health disparities will be approximately $337 billion dollars, with $117 billion incurred by private insurers. A number of indirect costs such as absenteeism, presenteeism and decreased productivity can be attributed to receiving inadequate health care services. Reducing just one health risk can improve an employee’s presenteeism by 9% and absenteeism by 2%.2

What Can Employers Do?

  1. Build the business case for reducing disparities and advancing health equity, and incorporate this priority into the corporate health and well-being strategy and diversity inclusion policies.
  2. Collect and use data to develop strategies addressing differential access, utilization, and outcomes of behavioral health interventions among diverse employees, working with health data partners to identify gaps and create solutions.
  3. Develop communications that are segmented and culturally and linguistically appropriate — including diverse cultural health beliefs and practices and preferred languages.
  4. Develop policies and environmental modifications that reduce barriers to access and support health and well-being across diverse populations
  5. Collaborate with community organizations, providers, health systems, and public health agencies to understand the broader needs of the surrounding community. Corporate Social Responsibility, also known as corporate citizenship, can be a valuable partner in this endeavor.

The social, economic and environmental factors are strong contributors to health inequities3 — employers must design programs and implement policies to improve where people work and form partnerships to improve where people live, learn and play. Employers that address health and health care disparities and promote health equity improve the health, clinical outcomes, productivity and quality of life of their employees and dependents. The National Business Group on Health established the Innovation in Advancing Health Equity Award, formerly the Innovation in Reducing Health Care Disparities Award to recognize companies that are helping employees achieve optimal health and well-being through initiatives that reduce disparities and promote health equity.

Relevant Tools and Resources Include:

Additional Resources:

  1. PolicyLink. Health Equity: Moving Beyond Health Disparities. May 2014.
  2. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of the Secretary, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and Office of Minority Health. HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Implementation Progress Report. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2015.

References (show references)

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2013. MMWR 2013;62 (Suppl 3):3.

2 Pelletier B, Boles M, Lynch W. Change in health risks and work productivity over time. J Occup Environ Med. 2004;46(7):746-754.

3 Bahls C. Achieving equity in health. Health Aff. October 2011.

Page last updated: December 30, 2015

Resource Library
Reducing Health Disparities