The coronavirus pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of many organizations -- putting to test every organization’s ability to pivot, adapt, and respond to an uncertain environment, blurring the lines between ‘work life’ and ‘home life’ like never before. During this time, employees have needed more from their employers than ever before: Financially, physically, mentally, and structurally.
The inadequacy of one-size-fits-all benefits packages has become glaringly obvious, as have the inequities that often result from such an approach. While top employers seemed to step up to the challenge, others have struggled to meet the demands of the modern employee.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for employers to evolve their approach to benefits, to ensure equity and equality. Here’s what you need to know about equity as it relates to health and benefits.
What Is Healthcare Equity?
Healthcare inequities are the systemic differences in the opportunities that different groups of people have to achieve optimal health. Healthcare inequities are the result of several factors: Disparities in health itself, disparities in care, and disparities in the ability to pay for care.
Disparities in health itself can include varying rates of asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, drug abuse, violence, and other afflictions. Disparities in care are more structural, including access to hospitals, clinics, and medicine, which can be influenced by a variety of socio-economic and structural factors. Finally, inequities in the ability to pay for care are often deeply rooted in larger societal inequities.
Health inequities result in unfair, avoidable differences in health outcomes. Communities of color, those of lower socioeconomic status, rural communities, people with disabilities (physical and cognitive), and LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately affected by health inequities.
According to a 2018 study by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altarum, health disparities cost $42 billion in lowered productivity and $93 billion in excess medical costs each year.
As providers of health insurance, employers have immense influence over the health of their employees. This is why it’s so important for employers to view benefits through the lens of promoting healthcare equity. A one-size-fits-all approach to benefits tends to disadvantage those who are already more vulnerable to the effects of health inequity.
Promoting Healthcare Equity
The playing field is not equal when it comes to healthcare, but employers have the ability to increase the accessibility and affordability of care for all their employees.
Let’s go back to what leads to healthcare inequity: Disparities in health itself, disparities in access to quality care, and disparities in the ability to pay for care.
Although it may seem difficult, employers can do their part to mitigate disparities in health itself between employees. Employers can help to level the playing field by creating a working environment that promotes a healthy, balanced lifestyle. They can also encourage all employees to get the preventive care they need to maintain their health and avoid preventable illnesses.
To promote equity in access to care, employers also have more influence than they probably realize. Creating a culture where employees are encouraged to schedule doctor’s visits during working hours can make it easier for employees to get the care they need. Being able to schedule appointments during work hours means that employees do not have to choose between taking care of themselves or fulfilling their obligations outside of work.
Another common barrier to care is the lack of a regular doctor. Since all employees within a company will typically have insurance within the same network, employers can help increase access to care by directing employees toward a vetted list of in-network providers.
Bringing care to the office, when possible, also works to increase access to care for all employees. For example, to encourage employees to get flu shots, an employer could bring in nurses and offer free shots to employees at the office.
Finally, employers can increase healthcare equity by increasing the affordability of care. But how? Paying for employee care outright is cost-prohibitive. Contributing to employee HSAs has been proven to be ineffective in increasing the affordability of care, and it typically only benefits those who already have the ability to afford their care.
Offering Paytient as a benefit can help to increase the affordability of care for all employees without increasing substantially increasing the cost to the employer. Paytient gives employees access to funds that can be used to cover medical, dental, vision, and even veterinary expenses. Employees can pay in full at the time of service, and then choose how to pay their bills back over time, interest-free, for up to a year.
Although the fight against healthcare inequity is far from over, employers have the ability to make a positive change by increasing the accessibility and affordability of quality care.