There’s been much discussion around equity vs. equality in the world of social justice. While it’s easy to mistake these similar-sounding words for synonyms, they’re actually quite distinct. When it comes to our health, taking an equity-focused approach leads to vastly different outcomes than an equality-focused approach.
To understand why, we must first define health equity and health equality. Let’s start with equality in healthcare, which refers to providing everyone with the same resources and opportunities — regardless of individual circumstances. If we just treat everyone the same, this line of thinking goes, we aren’t demonstrating bias or disadvantaging certain groups.
For the most part, health equality is a useful short-term approach for improving health outcomes among vulnerable populations in healthcare. However, it isn’t a good long-term solution because it does little to address the discriminatory systems that create barriers to healthcare, which result in health disparities among certain patient populations.
Then there’s health equity, which aims to do just that. Prioritizing equitable access to healthcare means acknowledging factors — both inside and outside of the healthcare system — that impact someone’s ability to access healthcare and then distributing resources and opportunities based on need. It’s a better long-term solution because it focuses on supporting people who our health systems frequently leave behind. These solutions are sometimes harder for people to tolerate because they can go against what they’ve been taught to see as “fair.”
Of course, this doesn't need to be an either-or discussion. When used in tandem, health equality and health equity are greater than the sum of their parts.
Compatible Solutions to Healthcare Challenges
To better illustrate how health equality and health equity can work in concert, let’s take a closer look at some of the health challenges transgender patients deal with on a regular basis.
For example, nearly 20% of transgender folks report being denied care because of their gender identity. A health equality approach could focus on eliminating medical discrimination with legal protections — a critical first step in the fight for equal access to healthcare for the LGBTQ community. Although legislation can block a doctor from refusing care, it doesn’t address the quality of care.
Indeed, 50% of transgender folks report having to take on the role of educator when talking to doctors about their healthcare. Overcoming this disparity requires an equity-focused approach. That might mean increasing research funding for trans healthcare and teaching physicians and other practitioners how to give trans people the care they deserve.
Gender identity is just one factor that impacts our health, though. Social determinants like race, income, and disability status all lead to health disparities when systems rooted in prejudiced practices and beliefs are left to their own devices. The question is: How can employers do their part to address these disparities for their employees?
Step one is rethinking healthcare benefits packages. For companies that have a history of providing a one-size-fits-all plan for their workforce, this means taking a closer look at the unique needs of their team members. If there are larger gaps in coverage for certain workers than for others, employers might consider offering different plans so employees can choose one that fits their unique needs.
And when healthcare equity gaps persist, they can look into supplementary benefits like Paytient. Paytient makes health benefits more equitable by affording all employees access to credit, without a credit check, so they can get the care they need and pay their out-of-pocket costs over time.
When healthcare is truly equitable, every person is able to get the care they need — when they need it. Supporting vulnerable populations in healthcare is a group effort, and we all need to do our part in the fight against healthcare inequity.