Sep 14, 2021
Cigna's Dr. Michael Howell: Education is Key to Health Equity

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) data continues to show racial inequities in COVID-19 vaccination rates. Of the more than 177 million Americans that are fully vaccinated, just 9.1% are Black and 15.9% are Latinx/Hispanic, compared to a whopping 59.4% that are White.

Dr. Michael Howell, MD, who is a regional medical executive for Cigna, is determined to combat vaccine misinformation in the Black community and for underrepresented minorities in general. He says that there is a lot of misinformation today – particularly on the Internet – regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine, which has created a lot of confusion for many Americans.

“This is a virus that is killing people and it doesn’t care about your politics, it doesn’t care about you religion, [and] it doesn’t care about your race,” Dr. Howell told BNC News earlier this month. “If you get it and you don’t have some form of protection, there’s a strong likelihood that it is going to make you … seriously ill, requiring hospitalization. And, if you find yourself in a hospital, sometimes you don’t come out.” Watch Dr. Howell’s full 20-minute interview with BNC, below.

Health Disparity in the Black Community

Health disparity in the Black community and in other underrepresented minority groups isn’t a new challenge in the United States. Research finds that at the national level, health inequities account for an annual loss to the U.S. economy of roughly $309 billion. Health disparities also rob individuals of their sense of well-being and personal security. They deprive communities of human resources and money, and they drive up costs, decrease productivity, and diminish the quality of life for everyone.

Health disparities also result in negative health outcomes for groups like Black Americans. When looking at life expectancy across races in the United States, the Black community’s is lowest. Asian Americans live the longest (86.3 years), followed by Whites (78.6 years), Native Americans (77.4 years), and African Americans (75.0 years). Dr. Howell strongly believes that education and awareness is key to closing the health disparity gap. He said that the Black community in particular needs to be educated on the fact that access to health care is a basic human right.  

“And Black people in particular,” he said, “need to better understand how health care works, and how to take full advantage of it.”

According to Dr. Howell, the key is going to be dispelling a lot of the “isms” that the Black community has carried over time, such as how they treat certain conditions, and ignore other signs and symptoms of disease.

“If we are proactive, and look to live preventively, we can live as long as our non-Black counter parts. But we have to get our heads out of the sand.” His advice? Each and every individual needs to do his or her research.

Employers Play a Role in Driving Awareness

Dr. Howell also believes that employers play a role in driving awareness and dispelling misinformation. In a podcast with Erving “Magic” Johnson late last year, Dr. Howell did a deep dive into how COVID-19 has amplified existing health disparities. He also offered valuable steps that business owners can take to help address these health disparities. Listen to the podcast below.