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Regardless of our racial, ethnic or socio-economic background, the need for access to high quality, affordable health care unites us all as human beings.

The underlying medical issues and prevalence rates may vary between groups, and health disparities remain a persistent problem — and are widening in some cases. That’s exactly why health systems, physician organizations, insurers, medical schools and other industry stakeholders must do a better job of embracing diversity as part of their core values.

Long ago, we made the strategic decision to do just that at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the results have exceeded our expectations.

Michigan is a diverse state — racially, culturally and economically. It’s a big part of what makes our state great. And organizations that build a foundation of respect, understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures are those best positioned for success.

When I made the decision, early in my tenure as CEO, to establish a formal strategy to help our colleagues better understand different cultures and the importance of diversity, our workforce was already diverse. And as a nonprofit, I understood we needed to be closely connected to the communities we serve. That by promoting greater acceptance and understanding of our unique differences among our employee base, we could do our jobs better and provide the best in customer service.

Today, our workforce is unique among employers of our size — 70 percent female and more than 41 percent non-white. We have employee groups that organize events around issues affecting African Americans, women, LGBTQ people, differently abled individuals and many others. I take pride in the gender and racial diversity of our executive leadership team.

We’re stronger together. It’s why we spent $226 million with women- and minority-owned suppliers in 2016 and were named a Corporation of the Year for Supplier Diversity for the ninth time by the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. And it’s why topped DiversityInc. magazine’s Top 10 list of regional companies for diversity for the third straight year.

Why is diversity important for businesses?

Because diversity is about stepping up to the opportunity and responsibility of being a marketplace leader. Because diversity is an imperative to attracting, hiring and retaining the best talent available. Because diversity is essential to building trust, the keystone to all successful relationships.

And because at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

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