March 2021

Driving health equity and equality

Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. For example:

  • African Americans/Blacks are 20% more likely to develop colorectal cancer than non-Hispanic whites.1
  • Depression is more than twice as common among older adults who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) than among older adults in general.2
  • Women of color are up to 50% more likely to give birth prematurely, and their infants are 130% more likely to die.3

Why addressing health disparities is critical.

Disparities can result in worsened health outcomes, added health care costs, lost productivity, and premature death.4 Health disparities are all too pervasive, not to mention costly to our country and our economy. Research estimates that disparities amount to approximately $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity per year – as well as economic losses due to premature deaths.5 Watch Cigna's Leading the Way to Health Equity video.

  • Individuals with unmet social needs are more likely to have:
    • Chronic conditions, including a 60% greater prevalence of diabetes6
    • More than double the rate of emergency room visits6
    • Nearly double the rate of depression6

Contributing factors.

Factors that contribute to health disparities are low health literacy, language barriers, cultural beliefs and practices, access to quality care, bias in the medical profession and Social Determinants of Health, such as physical environment or educational achievement.

Both individually and collectively these factors can present preventable health care barriers to achieving optimal health status and outcomes for certain populations. Despite significant improvement in overall health outcomes over the past decade, many subpopulations, including under-resourced communities, continue to experience substantial health disparities.

We encourage you to read the following articles and white papers.


African American:


Cigna is committed to helping women- and minority-owned businesses succeed through better health.

Existing barriers have been amplified by the current environment, yet business owners remain undeterred and determined to help empower families and communities for generations. Cigna has a responsibility, too. Learn more about our solutions for small businesses in Southern California, and how we’re collectively making an impact.

  1. Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2017–2019. [PDF] (p. 4).
  2. March of Dimes. Fall 2019 Prematurity Research Centers Update.
  3. Promoting The Behavioral Health of LGBT Older Adults. May 2019. National LGBT Health Education Center. Fenway Institute.
  4. Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers, KFF Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Published: August 8, 2018.
  5. Ani Turner, The Business Case for Racial Equity, A Strategy for Growth (W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altarum, April 2018),
  6. Berkowitz, et al. (2016). Addressing basic resource needs to improve primary care quality: a community collaboration programme. BMJ Quality & Safety, 25(3), 164–172.