Health inequalities are expensive. A new report from Deloitte explains the details: “…health inequalities account for an estimated $320 billion in annual health care spending, signaling an unsustainable crisis for the industry. If left unchecked, this figure could rise to $1 trillion or more by 2040.” The report further states that this cost increase will be directly passed on to the consumer, i.e. the patient. .
Inequalities in health care access and outcomes are endemic. As the report explains, “quantifiable differences in health-related outcomes have been documented across many dimensions, including race, gender, age, location, disability status, and sexual orientation. . Health inequalities can be seen across a wide range of conditions, including hypertension, asthma, diabetes, cancer, mental health, and heart disease. Some communities have lower life expectancies and higher cases of certain diseases simply because of their zip codes.
However, what can be done about this problem? On the one hand, healthcare leaders need to better understand the patients involved and realize that healthcare is not a “one size fits all” model. Rather, different patients require different approaches to care, often requiring specific expertise regarding certain populations and demographics.
In addition, awareness of the issue is equally important. Socioeconomic factors play an important role in achieving optimal health care outcomes. Take the example of a single mother who must choose between paying for her blood pressure medication or feeding her children for a week. Undoubtedly, the fact that the mother even has to make this choice indicates an area where the system can be improved.
In addition to socio-economic barriers, racial, age and language barriers are equally difficult. The federal government recognizes that this is an important problem and actively investigates inequalities. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how “the year 2030 marks a demographic turning point for the United States. The country’s population is expected to age considerably and become more racially and ethnically diverse. The multi-race population is expected to be the fastest growing racial or ethnic group over the next few decades, followed by Asian Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans. This means that programs will need to be put in place not only to raise awareness and educate about health equity, but also as a way to encourage organizations to set tangible and measurable milestones.
Companies are already trying to increase their commitment to achieving greater health equity. Big tech companies like Google have even dedicated specific roles to health equity champions, to explore new ways to achieve health equity through innovation and technology.
Inevitably, inequity in health care is an issue that will eventually affect every member of a given community, regardless of the immediate repercussions. So collectively, healthcare leaders, public policy experts, and everyday consumers (patients) must come together to solve this conundrum together.