The CBJ’s 2022 Diversity, Inclusion & Impact Symposium kicked off Aug. 17 with a morning keynote from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Executive Vice President Laura Jackson on the importance of health equity in the workplace. “Every Iowan should have the right to live a long, healthy life,” she said several times over the […]
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The CBJ’s 2022 Diversity, Inclusion & Impact Symposium kicked off Aug. 17 with a morning keynote from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Executive Vice President Laura Jackson on the importance of health equity in the workplace.
“Every Iowan should have the right to live a long, healthy life,” she said several times over the course of her speech.
As defined by the Center for Disease Control, health equity is when no one is “disadvantaged from achieving potential” and that health inequities stem from differences in “length of life; quality of life; rates of disease, disability and death; severity of disease; and access to treatment.”
Ms. Jackson compared health equity to a game of Scrabble – not all individuals are dealt the best combination of letters to score the maximum amount of points, but similarly, some people deal with inherent disadvantages in life that businesses should try to rectify when possible.
According to the 2021-22 Iowa State Health Assessment, Black Iowans’ life expectancy is five years shorter than the average Iowan. And while 73% of Iowans make a living wage, that number drops to 44-55% for racially diverse individuals.
“When I think of health equity, I think of the fact I grew up in a small town in Iowa and I was one of four children,” she said. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom and he [my dad] made maybe $24,000 in a good year. But I didn’t think we were poor. I never went hungry. I always had clothes. We had good schools. I lived in a community where everyone cared about one another. So, I had some opportunities growing up as a kid that some people simply don’t have. One thing that I didn’t have to worry about was no one ever treated me differently because of the color of my skin.”
Working in health insurance for 20 years at Wellmark, Ms. Jackson was used to thinking about quality and cost of care, but the company soon began thinking about health more holistically. She said that while 20% of health outcomes are impacted by the health care system, 80% are determined by socio-economic factors like zip code, family, friends, education and behaviors.
“What creates health is actually the communities that they live in,” she explained. “It’s where they work, it’s where they live, it’s where they live and where they pray. So, health is created outside the health care system.”
The solution to inequity? Companies must care about addressing health equity by making sure they employ diverse, inclusive workforces and show up in communities with intentionality, she said.
She also compared the difference between equality (giving everyone a pair of shoes) versus equity (giving everyone a pair of shoes that fit them).
“We don’t understand people’s stories all of the time,” she said. “Why they might not be able to take the path to get the shoes…understanding what health equity is means we have to think differently about how we help one another.”
“Health equity is crucial for the well-being and vibrancy of communities, economic vitality and national security of our country,” she added.
More coverage of this year’s diversity symposium will be found in our print edition Aug. 29.