DECEMBER 7TH, 2021
What kinds of factors can predict a person’s health? Genetics certainly play a significant role, but someone’s overall well-being is largely determined by a variety of social and economic factors (e.g., social support networks, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare clinics, health literacy). These predictors are called social determinants of health (SDOH), and they can be defined as varying conditions in where people work and live that affect their health risks and, ultimately, their medical outcomes.
If that seems a little abstract, consider SDOH through the lens of COVID-19’s effect on different communities. According to one study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, COVID-19 has more significantly impacted redlined neighborhoods, which are more likely to have minority residents, higher poverty rates, and high social vulnerability.
Residents in these areas are more likely to work in essential service jobs, meaning they’re more exposed to the public and more likely to be infected. They’re also more susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19 because they’re more likely to have pre-existing conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity. Inadequate access to healthcare and transportation might stop residents from being tested or treated until the virus has reached advanced stages, resulting in poorer outcomes. Indeed, data from the CDC showed that U.S. minorities are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.
These statistics can seem disheartening and make you feel powerless to enact real change. But as an employer, you have more power than you might think in terms of promoting health equality.
As diversity, equity, and inclusion become more prominent fixtures of the modern workforce, it’s important to educate yourself on SDOH and how you can promote health equality across your team. Your employees are multidimensional humans, and their lives outside of work directly impact their ability to bring their best selves to the office.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a social worker to address SDOH. Consider, for example, whether you’re paying employees appropriately. One study found that people with higher incomes are less likely to develop chronic diseases and suffer premature death. If you provide economic stability for your employees, they’re more likely to be able to meet their health needs through preventive care, which will ultimately lower your rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.
In other words, paying people a living wage is good for your people and your business. In 2006, for instance, researchers comparing Costco and Sam’s Club found that Costco had a more stable workforce with less turnover — and made higher annual profits per hourly employee. Why? Researchers pointed to the fact that Costco pays its employees a higher hourly wage and offers more inclusive benefits. More than a decade later, Costco remains on the leading edge of hourly pay in America.
Offering higher salaries, however, is not a panacea for health disparities caused by SDOH. Access to comprehensive, high-quality healthcare services is of the utmost importance — especially in light of the pandemic — but rising care costs are a massive hindrance.
Review your current healthcare benefits through the microscope of diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you offer employees a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), for instance, you might think that providing a health savings account (HSA) alongside the plan enables employees to cover out-of-pocket medical costs in a tax-advantaged way.
While it certainly helps, few people can afford to use their HSAs to build long-term wealth. The lowest-income workers likely cannot afford to deduct any funds from their payroll to contribute to their HSAs, and 80% of those who can afford to contribute aren’t able to meet the maximum contribution amount — or let that money grow over time.
Consider adding a safety net like Paytient to your health plan to build more inclusion into your employee benefits. Our employer-sponsored payment platform helps employees with HDHPs pay for medical expenses — ranging from dental to veterinary — with no fees and 0% APR at whatever pace meets their budgets. Learn more today!
Supporting mental health is also deeply important. The COVID-19 pandemic put a magnifying glass on the declining mental health of American workers, and myriad social factors impact a person’s risk for mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Fortunately, funds employees access through Paytient can also be used to cover mental care costs. Beyond that, consider these steps to support your employees’ mental health:
Create policies for no-questions-asked mental health days, allow employees to schedule therapy appointments during 9-to-5 hours, offer flexible work arrangements in your inclusive benefits package, etc.
Make sure there’s plenty of natural light at the office, survey workers about their preferred working environments, set those preferences into action, etc.
View your employees as people first and workers second, speak openly about the importance of mental health, provide educational opportunities to increase employees’ health literacy concerning mental health, etc.
Advancements in modern medicine have helped us diagnose and treat a broader range of diseases with better outcomes, but SDOH are still cutting certain people’s lives too short. Although employers can’t solve the problem, they can still do their part to address SDOH and shore up health equality across their teams.
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