Health and health care disparities in the U.S. are an urgent, national problem. Numerous studies show that it is harder for people of color and those with less money and resources to reach their optimal health.Undoing this injustice will require stakeholders across every sector—not only health care, philanthropies, and policy shops, but the private sector as well. Employers are not only uniquely positioned to address health inequities, but it’s in their best interest to do so.Here’s why:
Every year, employers get less and less credit for their investment in employee health.Over the past decade, health insurance costs have risen steadily. As a result, employees have become less and less satisfied with their employer-sponsored health benefits. Of course, employers have also been affected by rising costs too: they’re paying more in premiums as they try to keep employees healthy while managing costs. But employees don’t see that says Deb Gordon, MBA, health care consumer advocate, and author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto.“I’ve interviewed many people with employer-sponsored insurance who could recite for me how the value of employee benefits has decreased over time,” says Gordon. “To the consumer, they just know their experience has gotten worse and value has eroded, and they sometimes blame the employer.”Focusing on health equity is one way that employers can start getting more for their health care dollars. The people who are most affected by rising health care costs are also likely those who are most dissatisfied with the benefits their employers offer. By identifying solutions that make it easier for lower-wage earners and people of color to access and use their health benefits, employers will help increase overall benefits satisfaction, while also creating a more inclusive workplace culture.Stacey Gordon, MBA, consultant and Author of UNBIAS: Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work, says that focusing on health equity will give employers a competitive advantage.
“If they [employees] can see that they have better access to health care, more equal access to health care, lower costs in their access to health care, and that there’s an expectation that they will use their health care…. it goes a long way to being able to attract and retain the type of talent everyone is clamoring to find right now,” says Stacey Gordon.
“There are so few companies that have built a culture that makes their people’s health a priority,” she explains. “If you can be known for that, you’ll be turning people away.”
Healthier employees mean lower costs for employers.When employees can’t access health care—whether due to cost concerns, transportation barriers, or confusion over coverage—they have worse health outcomes. This leads to absenteeism and less productivity at work, which can greatly affect employers’ bottom line. Absenteeism due to preventable chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes costs more than $2 billion annually. And productivity losses from absenteeism costs employers $225.8 billion annually—a number that has likely gone up since the 2015 report from the CDC.Black, Indigenous, and other people of color as well as lower-wage earners are already more at risk for chronic disease. Employers can make the biggest impact on their employees’ overall health by focusing on solutions that support these populations.“Look at how much money you are losing because people don’t have health care access, and then you decide to make a choice to absorb those costs and have the healthiest most productive workforce,” says Anton Gunn, MSW, an employer consultant and expert on Socially Conscious Leadership.
“Focus on the mission of your people; the margin will take care of itself.