What is Health Equity? Why Does it Matter?

group of friends Health equity means everyone has a fair and just chance to be as healthy as possible. For equity to exist, we must remove obstacles to health for all.

Discrimination based on race, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, where someone lives or socioeconomic status drives disparities in health outcomes. People who experience discrimination and its consequences can experience a lack of access to stable housing, transportation and consistent employment with fair wages. When these basic needs aren't met, people are more likely to have poor health, including chronic diseases and mental illness.

You have likely seen a short video made by Adam Donyes, the founder and president of Link Year, a program designed for students who have completed high school but haven't yet started college. The video went viral in 2017 and continues to circulate. In it, he tells a group of young people that they are going to race, and the winner will receive $100. But before he yells, "Go," he asks them to take two steps forward if they meet specific criteria.

"Take two steps forward if both of your parents are still married," he says. He also asks people to step forward if they grew up with a father figure, had access to private education, never had to help their parents pay bills and never wondered where their next meal would come from."

In the end, some (primarily white) racers are near the finish line while others, predominantly people of color, are still at or near the original starting line.

As a not-for-profit healthcare company, CareFirst recognizes our opportunity to play a pivotal role in promoting health equity. Largely by investing in programs and initiatives that address SDOH in our communities.

Learn more about our giving strategy.

"Every statement I've made has nothing to do with anything any of you have done," Donyes says. "It has nothing to do with decisions you've made. … Because you have this big head start, you're possibly going to win this race called life. Nothing you have done has put you in the lead you're in right now."

In this example, if people were to achieve perfect health instead of winning $100 at the end of the race, this viral video could be about health equity. The criteria that Donyes asks of his racers are the same type of criteria— commonly referred to as social determinants of health (SDOH)—that impact one's opportunity to be and stay healthy. It is estimated that SDOH accounts for 80-90% of a person's overall health.

Why does health equity matter?

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to live a healthy life. Aside from the human cost of poor health, inequities in the quality of health, healthcare and health outcomes experienced by groups based on social, racial, ethnic, economic and environmental characteristics cost $93 billion in excess medical costs each year.

CareFirst is dedicated to promoting health equity. We believe all people—regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and geographic or financial access—should receive culturally competent, individualized care that brings them their most optimal level of health.

Learn more about Blue Cross Blue Shield Association's National Health Equity Strategy.