The past two years have been an unfortunate, but much-needed, reminder of the social and racial inequities baked into almost every institution in our country. The healthcare industry is no different. There’s a long history of discrimination in medicine, and socioeconomic factors play a huge role in the quality of care that patients receive. That goes for the benefits we offer our employees too. 

For years, we’ve been marginalizing employees by failing to offer benefits that are as diverse as our workforce is. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Employers can step up and offer a more inclusive benefits package that addresses the needs of all groups.

The impact of discrimination in healthcare

Unfortunately, the United States has a long-standing history of discriminatory healthcare practices. Here are just a few examples:

Though overt examples of discrimination like these may not be as prevalent as they used to be, inequity and mistrust of the healthcare system persist today.

More than

1 in 5

adults have experienced discrimination in healthcare

Race and ethnic discrimination was the most common type of reported discrimination at 17%, followed by discrimination based on education and income level at 13%, bodyweight at 12%, and age at 10%. More than half (54.6%) of Black respondents and more than a fifth of Latinx respondents reported discrimination. And those who have experienced discrimination are much more likely to experience it multiple times: 72% reported multiple incidents.

Discrimination destroys trust in the health system, which translates into no or lower-quality care. Underserved groups have lower rates of health coverage and face stereotyping based on false beliefs. Many folks whose first language is not English struggle to overcome communication barriers. Minorities receive lower-quality health services, including for cancer, prenatal care, HIV, and a host of other conditions.

Care inequity leads to an even larger, and more tragic, disparity in outcomes. People of color are twice as likely to die from heart disease, more likely to suffer from hypertension, and more likely to undergo unnecessary limb amputations. They’re more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes and have infant mortality rates that are twice as high as white Americans. 

And there’s been a stark difference in outcomes for people of color suffering from COVID-19. Black people and Latinx people face more than triple and nearly double the risk of death compared to white people. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ individuals have been discriminated against in fertility treatment, counseling, routine screening, and pediatric care.

Health outcomes for underrepresented groups improve when they have better options for health insurance coverage. But the bad news continues: there’s inequity there too. 

For example, non-white Americans are much more likely to be uninsured than white Americans. Another survey found that a quarter of firms still don’t offer health insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. When it comes to caregiving, LGBTQ+ parents struggle to take parental leave, because the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn’t cover all employers or employees.

1 in 4

insurance providers don’t offer coverage for same-sex couples

How leading employers are addressing healthcare inequity 

Fortunately, some employers are stepping up to remove the barriers to healthcare for underrepresented groups. 

49%

of employers say they’re more focused on DEI initiatives than they were a year ago

Jellyvision survey, Nov 2021

For example, Grand Rounds Health and Doctor On Demand have built a care concierge and healthcare navigation platform designed to improve health equity for Black Americans. They’ve joined with the Black Community Innovation Coalition, a group of companies including Accenture, Best Buy, Genentech, Medtronic, State Farm, Target, and Walmart. 

Together, these companies will focus on what they call “zones of impact including maternal fetal health, cardiometabolic disease, primary care access, behavioral health, and more.” Now, Black Americans can “pick up the Doctor on Demand app and be met with a navigation service that is culturally competent and a network prepared to help them navigate through the system and advocate for their specific needs.”

Merck for Mothers is another employer-driven program that aims to fill the gaps, with the goal of “strengthening health systems to sustain the delivery of high-quality maternity care services that benefit women and their communities.” Merck partners with other pharma companies and businesses, governments, nongovernmental associations, patient groups, entrepreneurs, and more to reduce the risk that mothers lose their lives while giving birth. To date, Merck has improved the safety of pregnancy and delivery for 13.1 million women globally and given 78 million people access to higher-quality healthcare facilities. 

48%

of employers have added more mental health resources to their benefits package in 2021

27%

of employers have increased the amount of family leave they offer in 2021

17%

of employers have added gender affirmation support to their benefits package in 2021

Jellyvision survey, Nov 2021

10 benefits that support a more diverse workforce 

Half of the US population has health insurance through their employer, but too many companies still don’t have the options that diverse workforces need. But you can take steps to balance inequity. Consider offering these 10 benefits, which are likely to support the traditionally underserved groups in your workforce.

1. More comprehensive parental leave

Only a handful of states and Washington, DC, offer paid leave for parents, but employers can step in to fill the gap. Paid leave can improve health outcomes for parents and their children, including reductions in low birth weight, infant mortality, and parental stress. A more comprehensive parental leave policy can also increase financial stability, particularly for low-income workers and people of color, and raise the chance that women will return to the workforce.

As you plan your leave benefits, think about how the “traditional” family structure has changed and how you can best support it. Beyond maternity leave, consider adding paternity leave as well as leave for domestic partners, foster parents, and anyone acting in the role of a parent. 

2. Family-building benefits

Family-building benefits have expanded in recent years beyond fertility tests and in vitro fertilization. They now often cover egg freezing, adoption, surrogacy, and more. But many of these benefits address the needs of heterosexual couples only. Instead, think about how to make this benefit more inclusive for nontraditional couples. 

3. Domestic partner benefits

A more inclusive workplace starts by acknowledging that your benefits should support families of all kinds. Make sure to include domestic partnerships in your benefits plans. Check your leave policies to ensure they give domestic partners, including cohabiting partners, the same privileges as married individuals. 

4. Mental health resources

Employees from underrepresented groups can feel stress from exclusion, bias, and microaggressions in the workplace. Offering mental health benefits, such as an employee assistance program with a robust number of free sessions or a digital mental health app can help these groups access the support they need, remove the stigma from seeking mental health services, and improve employees’ mental wellness.

5. Gender affirmation support

Traditional benefits plans may not offer gender affirmation benefits. A failure to cover gender affirmation surgery, hormone replacement therapy, and counseling services can add to the marginalization of transgender people. Offerings like these ensure transgender individuals feel valued and welcomed so they can be their authentic selves at work.

6. Telemedicine

If your workforce resides in an area with affordable, reliable internet, telemedicine can extend healthcare to people who may be reluctant to visit a doctor. For example, individuals with limited English skills may find it difficult to find a physician who speaks their native tongue. But with telemedicine, they have greater access to people outside their community who may be able to help. 

To take your offering to the next level, check your network to make sure your providers reflect the demographics of your workforce, and ensure you have high-quality providers in a range of specialties to address all the potential needs of your workforce.

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7. Home-based care 

Home-based health care offers older workers, those with disabilities, and those who live in rural areas better access to preventative healthcare. Plus, home-based testing can allow individuals to screen for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, COVID-19, influenza, and more at home—and it’s cost-effective for everyone involved. All of these measures can reduce long-term healthcare costs because they can help avoid the need for advanced and emergency treatments.

8. Health risk assessments and screenings

Assessments and screenings identify risk factors and potential needs, so you can better address them with resources and your offerings. But more importantly, assessments give individuals a snapshot of their current health and a projection of what problems they may face in the future. These tools are particularly useful for high-risk populations that may be reluctant to see their doctor for an annual checkup.

9. Wellness programs 

Underrepresented groups are often those most likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as eating fast food and smoking. Plus, these individuals are also more likely to be affected by burnout or poor work-life balance. While gym memberships and fitness trackers are nice perks, access to a broader variety of resources can encourage employees to engage in activities to support their physical and mental health.

10. Financial wellness programs

More than half (58%) of Black and Latinx households don’t have enough savings to cover three months of expenses at the federal poverty rate. Financial wellness programs can step in by helping these groups through education, guidance, and matching programs. Some employers provide general financial education resources, while others offer personalized coaching. Some even match contributions to student loans or provide tuition assistance. These programs can help underrepresented communities plan for their financial futures and start closing the wealth gap.

The more diverse your workforce, the more diverse your benefits should be

Many organizations are tied to their traditional benefits packages. But talent pools today aren’t homogenous. Employers should take the needs of all—not just some—employees into account as they construct their benefits program. By doing so, they’ll be able to better engage their employee population and attract future talent. 

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