Tuesday, Mar 14, 2023

The Power Employers Have in Helping to Remove Barriers to Health Equity: 5 Opportunities in 2023

Dr. Jay BhattManaging Director, Deloitte

Dr. Shantanu NundyChief Medical Officer, Accolade

HLTH Foundation

The healthcare experience and health outcomes for people who identify as LGBTQIA+, people living in poverty, veterans, racially and ethnically diverse people, people with disabilities and other groups historically marginalized by society and the healthcare system is markedly different than it should be. The impact of health inequity has been irrefutably quantified – inequities in the U.S. health system cost approximately $320 billion per year today, and that cost is expected to rise in the coming years. The Covid-19 pandemic put a magnifying glass on the inequities experienced by historically vulnerable groups while also ushering in new expectations of employers whose healthcare and workplace benefits became a safety net for employees.


Employers can continue to make a huge impact by removing barriers to health equity as they provide health insurance coverage for 51% of working-age Americans. They can also make an impact through salary and workplace benefits such as paid time off and benefits that help employees overcome social barriers to health. Business Group on Health reports in “2023 Trends to Watch” from their Large Employer Survey that 75% of large employers are concerned about health equity within their health and well-being initiatives. Many have planned this year to offer or expand benefits to support transgender and neurodiverse populations as well as inclusive family-forming benefits.  


At the HLTH conference in Las Vegas last November, we presented some opportunities for employers to help remove barriers to health equity in 2023:


  • Optimize current benefits and health plan offerings

The new calendar year often means the launch of new employee benefits and health plans and is a prime time to evaluate your current plan offering through an equity lens. Does your plan provide comprehensive coverage that meets the unique requirements of your business’ different populations, such as those with chronic illnesses, special healthcare concerns or across salary bands?  


  • Address Social Drivers of Health (SDOH) within your employee population and employ reporting for transparency

Life and social factors affect people differently, and addressing the specific, non-medical barriers of your workforce is a key opportunity to support their overall health and wellbeing. To help address SDOH issues such as food insecurity and housing instability, Delta Air Lines has implemented a program that lets employees earn up to $1,000 to establish a rainy day fund that can help address sudden financial needs. Your organization can explore the needs of your employees and then prioritize a manageable number of factors that could be addressable in the next twelve months. 


  • Expand access to primary care and mental health support through virtual and community-based care options

An October 2022 national survey by Deloitte of 4,545 representative consumers found that community- based health centers and retail clinics, combined with access to virtual healthcare, could bridge care delivery gaps for populations that have been historically underserved, and in many populations would be preferred.  


The survey also found that 55% of racially and ethnically diverse people who were surveyed are interested in virtual care for mental health and preventive primary care. As many employers move to adopt “virtual first” models of healthcare and are evaluating solution providers, employers can apply a health equity lens to that procurement process. 


Virtual care still includes humans. There are always people – doctors, nurses, therapists, clinical practitioners – on the other side of the screen. Employers should evaluate solution providers’ ability to offer care that is socially concordant (delivered by providers who share a social identity with the employee) and culturally informed. 


  • Make benefits and healthcare easy to navigate

In addition to adding a navigation service to your health and benefits plan if you don’t have one already, employers can leverage many tactics around health literacy, including how they utilize internal communication to equitably enable employees to find, understand and use benefits to make the best healthcare decisions. This can be as straightforward as using inclusive language and imagery or more programmatic, such as training managers to identify people with unmet needs and refer them to a specific benefit program with cultural humility.  


Employers can also look at adding benefits beyond health and wellness to advance health equity, such as financial literacy, commuter benefits and tuition assistance. Accolade is working with an employer on a pilot to provide onsite clinical resources for employees including health education sessions and one-on-one health coaching. These are just a few examples of ways to help employees overcome barriers and make informed decisions for their health.


  • Make commitments to address health equity issues alongside others

We believe that addressing health equity is both a moral and business imperative, and each organization has an important role to play in driving health equity as an outcome. That’s why Deloitte and Accolade recently joined 37 other organizations in signing the Global Health Equity Network Zero Health Gaps Pledge, a commitment to take concerted action to advance health equity globally. The pledge includes 10 key commitments all signatories have made to embed health equity principles throughout their operations, workforce and guiding philosophies.


In the first century B.C., Hillel the Elder asked “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” This question remains relevant today. Achieving health equity in the U.S. is an attainable goal and employers hold a coveted position of influence through the valuable contributions they can make when they begin removing barriers to health equity for all their employees.


Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms.


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