According to the CDC, health equity is achieved when “every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” Paula Braverman, MD, MPH describes health equity as the principle underlying a commitment to reduce—and, ultimately, eliminate—disparities in health and in its determinants, including social determinants of health.
Health equity is important to many people, including employers and their employees.
Learn why health equity should be addressed in employer-sponsored plans and how to support all employees and their families.
A study conducted by three individuals at Johns Hopkins University found that by addressing health disparities for minorities, direct medical expenditures would have been reduced by about $230 billion. The same study estimated that indirect costs associated with illness and premature death would have been reduced by more than $1 trillion.
People with low socioeconomic status and those who live in rural areas typically have the worst access to health care. Two of the top reasons include it’s too far away or inconvenient to access or they don’t have transportation. So, they don’t go to the doctor when problems are small. They wait until they can’t stand it anymore and end up taking an ambulance to the ER. If there were better in-person and digital options, they would use those first.
Health equity can result in better clinical outcomes. As in the example above, if people aren’t able to get help when problems are small, or when a risk is identified, they often wait until things get more serious. When high-value care is offered equally, everyone has an opportunity to get the best treatment possible. And when they get the best treatment, outcomes are better.
Additionally, chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease are disproportionately seen in communities of color and lower-income families. These diseases require proactive, ongoing treatment and support. This means regular medications, doctor visits, lab work, and more. If people can’t get these things, they get worse and it’s harder to manage the condition later.
Employees with unmet needs are more likely to miss work and be less productive. When you ensure health equity, you’re telling employees that they and their families matter. And as a result, they’ll get the care they need when they need it. They’ll show up to work and they’ll work hard.
Health Equity Strategies for Employer-Sponsored Plans
Make health equity a priority. Health equity must be at the core of your employee benefits plan. It’s not something that automatically happens because you offer a health plan or because your premiums are low. You must dedicate time and resources to make sure you get it right.
Ensure benefits are easy to understand and access. Effectively communicating benefits is crucial to health equity. You must inform your employees in a way that they’ll understand. So many people don’t maximize their health benefits because they don’t understand them, they don’t know how to use them, and they don’t know who to call for help.
Get creative! Consider using an online portal for one point of access for everything benefits-related. Use video and graphics to support written materials. Meet your employees where they are. Do they respond better to emails or postcards, or is it better to meet with them in person? Ensure your communication is consistent and clear.
Finally, encourage questions. The last thing you want is for someone to leave a benefits meeting or open enrollment feeling overwhelmed or confused.
Expand health benefits. Start from the beginning and look at whether your health plan meets the basic needs of your employees. Is there adequate access to high-value care? Are there options available for employees of all socioeconomic statuses? Are your premiums, deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance costs causing financial hardship?
Once you identify potential gaps in your health plan, figure out how to fill them. Can you offer another health plan option that’s more affordable? Consider making cost-sharing changes that will work for both you and your employees. You can also work with partners who help employees make smarter, more cost-efficient medical decisions.
Be inclusive. Incorporate inclusive language in your communications so that everyone feels seen. This could mean translating your benefits information into other languages. It could also mean making sure your graphics and images accurately and equally represent your population. When talking about family leave, parental benefits, and more, use gender-neutral language.
Drive and support better decisions. By doing all of the things above, you’ll have a good framework for ensuring health equity. However, one benefit to consider is medical advocacy and care navigation services. These services enhance your health benefits by offering employees and their families personalized guidance and support. Considering a person’s unique needs, nurse advocates will find them the right care from the very best providers. They foster trust and empowerment within each person to break down barriers to care and support smart decision-making.
The effectiveness of our health care system depends on all of us working together to create a culture of health equity. While it’s important for employers and employees to work together to achieve healthier outcomes, it’s equally important for both sides to learn from each other.
Employers can learn by asking questions and listening to the concerns of their employees. And employees can learn by seeking out information on how they might make themselves and their communities healthier.