Employers are increasingly participating in the movement to identify and address social factors that can adversely affect the health of their workers.
The state and local governments of Kentucky, GE Appliances, Humana Inc., and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield are among employers participating in a program with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations to identify issues with that your employees may be confronted with and that affect their health are usually not covered by health insurance.
These social determinants of health can include inadequate housing and inadequate access to healthy food and transportation. Financial stress and lack of childcare are also concerns many workers faced during the pandemic.
The focus on social determinants of health has increased in recent years, but it usually comes from social services and health insurers. Employer involvement can be a key component in improving the health and lives of their workers, who are struggling in silence without their knowledge.
“Employers are increasingly focusing on adapting social determinants of health as a core part of their health strategy and performance strategy,” said Jessica Brooks, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health, in an interview.
“You traditionally haven’t headed it,” Brooks said. “I think Covid-19 made that worse and made it very clear that employers are in the public health field,” she said.
The Leading by Example program has helped the Pittsburgh-based health coalition, which has 85 employer members covering approximately 2 million people in western Pennsylvania, use data employers have to identify social factors, Brooks said.
In an attempt to determine when employees should return to work, for example, employers learned that vacation policies didn’t allow parents who had children home from school and couldn’t be in an office, she said. Additionally, employers may not realize that some employees are homeless, Brooks said.
“What has been highlighted since 2020 are these different variables that we often assumed were outside of our workplace, that were community issues. And now we find out, oh no, my workforce is directly affected. “
“Employers need to get actively involved,” rather than just relying on government programs to help people in need, Brooks said.
The 160 million or so people in the US who are covered by employer health plans would otherwise be “left off the table,” she said. “They are traditionally not served by the government programs, and local authorities do not necessarily target workers who are above the poverty line.”
Food trucks, farmers markets
The Leading by Example project is also designed to help employers share best practices and develop a plan to work on at least one social determinant of health, said Randa Deaton, president and CEO of the Kentuckiana Health Collaborative, in an interview. The Kentuckiana Collaboration is a buyer-led health group based in Kentucky.
One company in the partnership is now bringing a food truck full of fresh food and holding a farmers’ market at its workplace, and another company has started prepaying workers so they don’t have to get cash advances, she said.
“Financial stress is a big problem,” said Deaton. “Companies are exploring how they can help their employees improve financial well-being through courses, education, and benefits.”
Deaton said the project found that social determinants of health aren’t just affecting low-wage workers. For example, limiting funding and other services to minorities has created additional barriers to housing, transportation, food and digital access, she said.
“Systemic racism is the undercurrent of many social determinants of health,” said Deaton.
Many employers lack the data that would make it easier to identify social factors.
“We found that we don’t have a lot of data on race, gender, or anything of all of our 300,000 members,” said Sharron Burton, assistant commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Employee Insurance, in an interview.
The Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan (KEHP), which includes more than 400 public employers in the state, also participates in the Leading by Example program. It focused on data it had on behavior therapy providers, Burton said.
“What we found is that in Kentucky we have some vendor deserts when it comes to accessing behavioral health services,” she said.
The KEHP is investigating programs available to it that “our members may not benefit from,” such as telehealth and telehealth services through employee clinics, Burton said.
United Healthcare Analytical
Covid-19 “compounded some of these inequalities and brought them to the fore in a new, different way, with a particular focus on mental health,” said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota Interview.
UnitedHealthcare plans to provide analytics for some fully insured employer health plans to help them identify employees in need of social support. The program is scheduled to begin in 2022.
UnitedHealthcare currently has an analytics program that is used by some major employers to use damage data to find who is most likely to have social needs, Madsen said.
In addition, call center agents listen to comments such as, “I’m hungry, can’t pay my rent, or my lights are turned off,” said Madsen. The company has a database of resources that it uses to refer consumers to food banks or get financial assistance, she said.
The company plans to offer similar analysis for fully insured plans of 300+ employees in early 2022, Madsen said. Companies pay fixed annual premiums to health insurers responsible for covering all damage in full insurance plans typically used by smaller companies.
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