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Sponsored by: WellSpark
October 12, 2021

Strategies for Employers to Address Health Care Disparities and Promote Health Equity

By Andi Campbell and Dr. Wayne Rawlins

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the life of every American while bringing several critical issues to the forefront of the national dialogue. The nature of work, reaching an equilibrium between one’s personal and professional life, and partnerships between public and private sectors have all received significant attention during the past year and a half.

Within the context of healthcare, perhaps no concept has received more attention than health equity. As defined by the CDC, health equity is achieved when everyone can “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.”

Employers across the country have a choice they need to make right now to either ignore health equity issues or open the door and address the issues head-on. Employers provide health insurance to approximately 50% of the American population. This puts them in a powerful position to encourage actions that can help counter the forces of health inequity and create an environment that highlights access to care for traditionally underserved communities within their workforce.

If you have the will and determination to play an active role in addressing disparities in healthcare for your employees but are unsure of where to start within your organization, consider the following approach.

Measure and Identify Disparities

If you don’t have it already, the first step is to select the data elements to measure disparities amongst your workforce. Each workforce is different, so you must understand the various identities and backgrounds that impact your employees’ attitudes toward and ability to receive healthcare services.

Create an overview of your employee base’s socio-economic and cultural demographics and engage directly with your employees to learn more about their backgrounds. You can also work with your health broker or health plan to gather the data you need to identify health and healthcare disparities within your organization.

Address Disparities and Measure Impact

Recognizing that these disparities exist is an essential first step, but taking action is a necessary next step. After you have identified disparities, you can develop interventions to address them and start removing the barriers to health equity. Create a plan containing concrete actions to implement within a specific timeframe. The Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET) Disparities Toolkit can also help you begin this process. It includes a range of suggestions on how best to engage your employees in meaningful conversations about health disparities and the healthcare experience for historically marginalized groups. Beyond the four walls of your organization, tap into relevant networks of local neighborhood groups, community leaders, and business alliances for ideas on how to bring about meaningful change.

It is critical to measure impact and define what success looks like for your organization. Perhaps you define success based on whether or not your employees gain a better understanding of the importance of health and wellbeing. Or maybe success is centered around higher engagement in programs designed to improve wellness and health outcomes or demonstrable improvements in self-care and wellbeing behaviors.

Avoid the temptation of defining success as a decrease in medical costs incurred by your organization in the short term. Addressing racial disparities often means more people seeking primary care, taking maintenance medicines, and getting diagnostic lab work, which may translate into claims that an employer would have to pay. Still, research has demonstrated that promoting an environment where employees engage in preventive care will result in lower claims costs in the long term.

Be Transparent and Revise Approach If Needed

Throughout the process, make sure you are transparent with your employees. Let them know your intentions, use your regular communication channels — town halls, newsletters, intranets, department meetings, leadership calls — to share what you are doing and why, and publicly report your results. If needed, revise your strategies for continued and improved impact.

COVID-19 has put our country’s healthcare system under a microscope, with the obstacles to equal treatment laid bare for all to see. Without addressing health disparities, our country can expect to see healthcare costs continue to rise, workforce productivity continue to fall, and health outcomes continue to worsen for a growing proportion of the working population. However, employers have a unique opportunity to make significant advances for healthy equity and blend wellbeing and diversity efforts to inspire change and, more importantly, save lives.

Andi Campbell is Chief Growth Officer and Dr. Wayne Rawlins is Chief Medical Officer at WellSpark Health, a national wellbeing, disease prevention and management company that moves disparate, long-tenured employee populations along a path toward a more enduring well.