Health disparities directly and indirectly cost the U.S. economy $309 billion annually, and it is estimated that approximately 30% of direct medical costs for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are unnecessary costs resulting from health disparities, according to a paper prepared by Connecticut-based Cigna. Indirect costs, the paper points out, include lost work productivity and premature death.

The paper, focusing on Cultural Competency in Health Care, is part of an initiative by Cigna that has been recognized with an “Innovation in Advancing Health Equity Award” by the National Business Group on Health, which honored the insurer for its ongoing commitment to promoting health equity and reducing health care disparities in the workplace and community.

“Health equity exists when all people, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, geographic location, or other societal constructs have the same access, opportunity, and resources to achieve their highest potential for health. It is our hope that these companies provide an example and encourage other employers to advance health equity,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health.

Cigna was recognized for its nationwide program, America Says Ahh, to improve preventive care and encourage regular check-ups. A key feature of the campaign is the TV Doctors of America preventive care advocacy campaign featuring five famous TV doctors.  Among them is Alan Alda, best known for his role on M*A*S*H.  Alda will be on Hartford on Saturday evening at The Connecticut Forum.

“For Cigna’s network doctors and clinicians, we created and delivered an in-depth cultural competency training with an emphasis on engaging Hispanic patients, and produced an external white paper on Cultural Competency in Health Care,” said Peggy Payne, a leader within Cigna’s Health Equity Strategy area.

“The U.S. population is increasingly diverse. Cultural competency is essential to deliver health care services that meet the needs of each individual and improves overall health,” said Christina Stasiuk, D.O., National Medical Director for Health Equity at Cigna.

Racial and ethnic minorities currently make up about a third of the U.S. population, and are expected to become a majority by 2055, the paper points out, noting that:

  • Hispanics will continue to make up the largest portion of the minority population
  • The Asian population is expected to grow at the fastest rate between 2015 and 2055
  • The foreign-born population will increase at a higher rate than the native born population, accounting for approximately 20% of the U.S. population by 2060

As the U.S. becomes more diverse, it is likely that more individuals will have limited English proficiency or will not adhere to Western cultural norms, which may contribute to greater health disparities, the Cigna paper points out.

“Reducing health disparities is a business and social imperative. Minority populations will likely become an increasing share of providers’ patient panels, employers’ workforces, and health plans’ customers, requiring that all stakeholders seek ways to promote health equity to improve health and access, reduce costs, and improve experience,” the Cigna paper emphasizes, suggesting employers can take to build cultural competency and improve health outcomes for all their employees by:

  • Expanding their human resources leadership team to include experts in cultural competency and diversity
  • Instituting multicultural staff representatives to support onsite health services, such as health fairs and open enrollment
  • Seeking feedback from diverse groups of employees about their experiences as health care customers
  • Providing materials and benefits information that are culturally competent, e.g., culturally adapted or language-specific
  • Proactively gathering the demographic data of their workforce to measure and take action on health trends
  • Collaborating with their health plan to better engage employees in their health

Cigna indicates that the company has “ongoing efforts to help ensure that Cigna staff is culturally and linguistically competent.”

The National Business Group on Health is the nation’s only non-profit organization devoted exclusively to representing large employers’ perspective on national health policy issues and helping companies optimize business performance through health improvement, innovation and health care management.

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