The importance of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has made steady progress over the last few decades, but 2021 was the year where many employers finally made DEI a priority in their organization. An enormous undertaking for even a modestly sized company, these initiatives require challenging introspection and analysis regarding topics like strategic goals, hiring practices, workplace environment, and yes, benefit offerings.
It is impractical to expect every company aiming to improve on DEI measures to succeed in a matter of just one or two years. For many, this is a transition that will take much longer to come to fruition in a meaningful and measurable way. While enthusiasm should be applauded, trying to bite off too much in too short of a space of time can be overwhelming and ultimately does a disservice to the importance of the project. Breaking this process down into smaller, more manageable goals is a far better strategy than tackling the entire thing at once and then becoming discouraged when results do not meet expectations.
A great place to get started on this journey is with the single largest non-salary employee expense: healthcare. In order to truly achieve a more equitable workplace, where inclusive benefit offerings lead to improved health outcomes, plans need to be tailored to the individual needs of all employees.
What does healthcare discrimination look like?
Understanding inequities in the healthcare system begins with examining the underlying factors that impact health outcomes, known as the social determinants of health (SDOH). SDOH encompasses aspects of a person’s environment that have a major impact on their health, wellbeing, and quality of life. The unfortunate reality is that differences in socioeconomic status, geographic location, and racial background often result in substantial disparities in health outcomes. For example: if people don’t have access to grocery stores with healthy foods, they are less likely to have good nutrition, increasing their risk for a variety of health conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
How are employees affected by discrimination in the health care system?
Employees can be left vulnerable to increased health risks either by lack of access to quality health care or by lack of adequate education about the resources that are available to them. Data from a recent Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adult Americans showed that 54% have delayed care in the past year due to cost. The 2020 Health Insurance Literacy Study from Policy Genius found that only 32% of Americans can define the terms deductible, copay, and premium. Whatever the cause, many employees lack the resources necessary to take care of their physical and mental well-being, which could potentially result in long-term health issues.
How can employers make the health care system more equitable?
Recognizing that there is no universal strategy to improving employee well-being allows you to diagnose the specific gaps and obstacles that your employees experience in their access to healthcare. The importance of personalizing clinical and wellness offerings to the needs of the individual is a factor that is often overlooked when administering healthcare benefits. That being said, here are some common barriers and strategies to address:
- Add wellness programs to your overall benefits package that take into consideration how your employees’ diverse backgrounds and experiences impact their health. Wellness subsidization has the dual benefit of promoting healthy behavior while also lowering the employee’s financial burden.
- Ensure your health plan uses clear and accessible language. 36% of Americans making less than $75,000 annually reported that they have avoided care due to uncertainty over what their health insurance covered. Inaccessible language can prevent even the most carefully designed benefit package from providing equitable healthcare access.
- Provide first-dollar coverage and improved cost certainty. High prices, lack of cost certainty, and high deductibles are the most commonly cited reasons for skipping or postponing medical care. 44% of American adults don’t have $400 in savings, leading to a disproportionate impact on lower-income individuals and families.
In a recent survey, 7 in 10 employers said that they plan to bolster DEI-related aspects of their benefit packages in the next few years. While most organizations have their employees’ wellbeing in mind, few are truly aware of how these decisions impact their overall health. These investments are also good for the bottom line, as the fewer medical procedures and doctor visits your employees require, the fewer claims are submitted. A survey from Monster indicated that 86% of job candidates say DEI initiatives in the workplace are important to them, demonstrating the impact these programs can have on recruitment and retention.
From personalized benefit offerings to proper benefits education and improved cost certainty, there are many options available for employers to work toward providing equitable health plans. This is an important project that will likely take years to bring to fruition, but it is the right thing to do not only for your employees but also for your organization itself, and it is never too early to get started.