What can the health care sector do to advance health equity?

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Despite the strong links between health and social conditions, inequities in the social determinants of health have traditionally been viewed as beyond the purview of health care. That sentiment is rapidly changing amid growing recognition among payers and providers that inequities in employment, housing, environment, transportation, and education limit the benefits of health care, drain resources, and make it challenging for health care organizations to operate efficiently. Making sure everyone has a fair and just opportunity to live the healthiest life possible would benefit society and the health care sector.

Studies find that low-income people and racial and ethnic minorities experience worse health because of inequitable social conditions. One study estimates that eliminating racial/ethnic health disparities would reduce health care costs by $230 billion and indirect costs of excess disease and mortality by more than $1 trillion over four years. Inequities in health care—such as lack of health insurance, unaffordable medical expenses, and structural racism in health care—create disparities in care and make the system more costly and less effective. Health care providers and health care systems must play a major role in advancing health equity to prevent needless suffering, premature deaths, and avoidable costs.

Braveman P, Gottlieb L, Francis D, Arkin E, Acker J. What Can the Health Care Sector Do to Advance Health Equity? Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; November 2019. Available online.

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