By: Dr. Kelli Tice, Florida Blue Chief Health Equity Officer – Health equity is achieved when every person has the ability to achieve their highest level of health. When that doesn’t happen, differences in outcomes between groups, or health disparities, occur, caused by barriers related to social or economic status.
Many people face such barriers, and are prevented from accessing the care, services and resources they need to live a healthy life. Societal factors such as poverty or racial discrimination influence where people live, often leaving minorities in communities impacted by disinvestment. As a result, many minorities experience limited access to healthy foods, lower quality education, difficulty earning a living wage and unsafe environments.
I recently transitioned into the role as the first-ever Chief Health Equity Officer for Florida Blue’s parent company GuideWell. I am proud to serve in this role that reflects the commitment the company has made to reducing health disparities, delivering culturally competent care and improving the health of all communities. GuideWell will join the local medical community, community leaders, nonprofits and the business sector to continue to identify innovative solutions with sustainable, long-term impact.
When practicing as a family physician, I spent much of my time helping patients overcome social barriers to optimal health by choosing convenient appointment times that did not interfere with work, selecting affordable medications or conducting home visits to overcome transportation difficulties. Extra efforts like these are required in clinic and hospital settings and will have a greater impact if conducted in our community in a coordinated manner.
At Florida Blue, we are working to collect and analyze this data about our members’ challenges, which allow us to better meet their needs, identify resources and create programs that are tailored to them.
COVID-19 shines a spotlight on health disparities that exist among minority populations. According to the CDC, the pandemic has impacted Black and Hispanic people more than any other group. From March 2020 to January 2022, COVID-19 hospitalizations were 2.5 times higher for non-Hispanic Black adults and 2.4 times higher for Hispanic or Latino adults than non-Hispanic white adults. In communities across the United States, including here in Jacksonville, minorities faced higher rates of disease transmission and financial impacts associated with the pandemic. Minorities, while overrepresented in higher risk jobs, consistently have decreased access to testing and vaccines.
While we have done work to address COVID-19 disparities in the short term, we must also solve these issues for the longer term. In minority communities, addressing issues underlying the more severe impacts of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions will improve overall outcomes and reduce the preventable complications that have such dire impacts on longevity and quality of life.
In the years to come, our industry must address underrepresentation in health care, increase the diversity in provider networks, partner across the community to educate and empower the minority health care consumer, and involve the communities we serve in the solutions.
We may not see change overnight. But working together and committing to long-term solutions will ultimately close disparity gaps and create a just and equitable health care system. For all.
About the author:
Kelli Tice, MD, is a family physician with a background in public health who serves as GuideWell and Florida Blue’s Vice President, Medical Affairs and Chief Health Equity Officer. In this role, which she assumed in January 2022, Dr. Tice is responsible for creating solutions that improve health outcomes and address health inequities for GuideWell’s customers and communities.
Dr. Tice is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, and currently serves as the Vice President of Northeast Florida Medical Society, and the chair of the Deans Council, Brooks College of Health at the University of North Florida.