This year’s release of the U.S. News & World Report Healthiest Communities rankings offers an insightful look at the state of health equity in our country. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought light to the health inequities that underserved communities have experienced for decades, and the reality is that health inequity is an American crisis.
Now more than ever, we need to address social determinants of health and create a more equitable health care system that focuses on investing in our local communities. It will take stakeholders from across the health care spectrum to eliminate health disparities.
Recognizing the Intersection Between Health Equity and the Environment
Added this year to inform the rankings are data points that highlight the risks natural hazards, including those tied to climate change, pose to the health of our communities. A U.S. News analysis alongside the rankings reveals the higher levels of risk faced from these hazards by marginalized communities, underscoring the consequential health impacts that can result from exposure to phenomena like heat waves, flooding and wildfires.
Indigenous people are the most at risk from natural hazards in the United States, according to the analysis, while Black Americans are more at risk from heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and coastal flooding than any other demographic group.
Meanwhile, urban communities continue to have worse air quality than rural communities. Research also has shown that communities of color are more likely to be impacted by noise pollution, as well as face exposure to hazardous waste and chemicals. These types of issues are associated with worse health outcomes and lower life expectancies.
CVS Health recognizes that the health of all people is inextricably linked to the health of the planet. That’s why we’re taking a close look at the intersection of health equity and sustainability and identifying steps we can take at the local level to help create a more equitable and sustainable world.
Advancing Health Equity
Addressing health equity is nothing new to CVS Health. We’ve historically had a local presence in underserved communities across the country, providing convenient access to health care through our CVS Pharmacy locations. During the pandemic, we worked across our businesses – and with our network of community-based leaders and nonprofit organizations – to focus on addressing inequities related to COVID-19 vaccine access and education in vulnerable communities, with a particular focus on Black and Hispanic populations. In 2021, we administered more than 32 million COVID-19 tests and 59 million COVID-19 vaccines.
We know there is more work to be done in advancing health equity. As a health care innovation company that touches more than 100 million people across our lines of business, we can improve the trajectory of equitable health care for people in America.
We’re engaging with communities to understand what their specific needs are and working with them to develop interventions and programs that meet those needs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Through our Health Zones initiative, we’re providing concentrated local investments designed to reduce health disparities and advance health equity in historically underserved communities across the country by addressing key social determinants of health.
Addressing a Key Barrier to Improving Health Outcomes
Equitable access to affordable housing serves as one of the greatest barriers to improving health outcomes. Healthiest Communities data shows renters in urban communities are spending at least 30% of their income on housing at higher rates than in rural ones, and eviction rates are higher as well.
CVS Health is addressing housing insecurities and promoting community health improvement in vulnerable populations across the country. When we make investments in local communities, we’re able to create a meaningful impact and help more people live healthier lives and reach their full potential.
In 2021, we reaffirmed our commitment to addressing housing insecurities and increasing access to health care services in underserved communities by investing $185 million in affordable housing in 2021. These investments are supporting the development and rehabilitation of more than 6,570 affordable housing units in 64 cities across 28 states and Washington, D.C.
Creating Healthier Outcomes Through the Power of Collaboration
We know that we need to address the underlying causes of health disparities – including racism, sexism and ageism – in order to truly move the needle. We know that no one person, organization or entity can do this alone. The private sector, employers, governments, hospitals, health care workers – everyone has a role to play.
The true measure of success will be when we see progress from collaborations that address social determinants of health and reduce inequities. By working together, we will be a catalyst for change and make a lasting impact on the well-being of people and communities across the country.