HR pros, it’s that time of year: you’re likely putting the finishing touches on your strategies, finalizing budgets, and gearing up for what’s ahead. But before you finalize your plans, there’s an important conversation we need to add to the mix: how do we address the inequities that continue to plague our healthcare system?
While it’s clear that these socioeconomic disparities deserve some much-needed attention, health equity isn’t at the forefront of employers’ conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace—and it should be. Why? Because we still have so much work to do:
Black women are
more likely to die in childbirth than white women
1 in 4
insurance providers don’t offer coverage for same-sex couples
So it’s not just imperative that employers do their part to make health equity a reality—it’s urgent. We caught up with DEI experts Tanya Ladha and Ian Gibbs-Hall to explore how HR pros can implement a health equity strategy at their own organizations. Here’s what they had to say.
Check out the full recording of Confronting the Health Equity Gap: Building Your HR Action Plan.Watch now
What is health equity?
Health equity is still a fairly new concept, and not many of us are experts yet. In fact, recent Jellyvision data shows that there’s still a lot of confusion among HR folks about this topic and its meaning:
of HR pros have never heard the term health equity before
2 in 5
HR pros say they understand the term “health equity”
of HR pros say they don’t understand the term “health equity” at all
So to start our conversation, we asked our experts to level-set with a simple definition of health equity:
“Health equity is the act or the process that establishes impartiality in our healthcare system by eliminating barriers and meeting the needs of each individual. We hear a lot about how equity and equality aren’t the same thing—I actually think they’re part of the same thing. Equality is the outcome, while equity is the path to get there.”
Tanya added that it’s about examining our organization’s healthcare processes to determine how well we’re supporting our employees, and where there are gaps:
“What are the supports and structures that will allow an individual and their family to manage unpredictability and be healthy and resilient in the near future and long-term?”
Why is now the right time for employers to focus on health equity?
While there’s still room to grow our understanding around health equity in the HR world, there’s good news—we all agree that it should be a priority:
of HR pros agree that working towards health equity is the right thing to do for all organizations
So even though we’re collectively learning what health equity means, it’s good to see that HR pros already understand that we have a moral imperative to advance equity within our own companies. But we’re still in the very early stages of implementing health equity strategies at the organizational level:
of HR pros say their organization isn’t addressing health equity at all
have only started to address health equity within the last two years
We asked our panelists why there’s urgency to address the health equity problem now. They reminded us that our employees are demanding it, and there’s no time to wait:
“We’re a few years into a cultural shift when we think about equity. The level of attention paid and investments made have seen a massive acceleration. A recent study showed that 80% of all US employees think equity is the central responsibility of the C-suite. So there’s a real opportunity right now for employers to step into the expectations that employees have for them.”
Recent social unrest has put a spotlight on the inequity and discrimination that have plagued our nation’s institutions for far too long. In response, employees are holding their employers accountable to do more—and that includes healthcare. So employers are stepping up to the plate to rebuild trust and recognize our employees’ health needs, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make.
“If we’re encouraged to bring our whole selves to work, my health concerns are a part of that whole self. So there’s an expectation and trust in our employers to help us solve the [healthcare] issues that we see systemically, and have risen to the top of our consciousness in the last few years.”
What’s causing differences in healthcare access for certain employee groups?
While a majority of us in HR are ready to admit that health equity should be a top initiative in 2023, our perceptions are off when it comes to how accessible our health plans are. In fact, a majority of HR pros think their benefits are already equitable:
of HR pros say employees at their organizations have equal access to healthcare
But when we asked employees if they believe their organizations offer equal healthcare access to everyone, there were some discrepancies:
- Women were 9% more likely than men to say yes
- Cisgender employees were 11% more likely than trans, non-binary, and genderqueer employees to say yes
- Heterosexual employees were 17% more likely than LGBTQ employees to say yes
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So what gives? Why are there so many differences in how each employee chooses, uses, and engages with their benefits?
“All people are different people. Yes, your employees might all be working at the same place, but every single person has a different experience. It’s impossible to fully understand what it’s like to be somebody else. And healthcare grows that concept exponentially. Trying to understand the intricacies of what any given person might need is incredibly difficult.”
Tanya added that it’s not just about providing employees with the right resources. It’s also about making employees aware of what’s already available to them:
“Once you think about access, awareness is also a critical issue. We’ve talked with a lot of HR professionals who have these benefits…they’ve built it but their employees aren’t coming to it. A diverse workforce needs diverse communication channels. We need texts, QR codes, employee ambassadors…we need to spread our benefits messages across as many platforms as possible.”
What are some real-life examples of health equity in action?
Let’s get to the good stuff. Companies are acknowledging that they have a personal responsibility to make health equity happen within their own organizations:
of HR pros agree that advancing health equity among the workforce is an important responsibility of human resources professionals.
of HR pros agree that their organization must ask what more they can do to help employees access the care they need.
So how do we achieve that goal? What specific tactics have real companies used when it comes to health equity?
“One of the employers we work with had a 401K match for employees. They could see who was contributing without maximizing their contributions. So they’d send targeted messages to their employees with dollar amounts to show them how much they were leaving on the table. So it’s important to think about how HR can use the data they have to determine who’s using what, if it’s being used, and if it’s an access or an awareness issue.”
Tanya added that there’s a lot more we can do when it comes to equitable healthcare pricing as well:
“When it comes to healthcare specifically, we’re seeing organizations tiering the pricing of their healthcare premiums, so it’s compensation-based and proportional to employees’ salaries. We’ve also seen employers start to complement their benefits packages with cash incentives, so that employees can decide for themselves what they most need for their health. Maybe it’s a Peloton, maybe it’s a medication that’s not covered by insurance…no matter what, it’s up to the employee.”
How do you build a health equity strategy?
Building a health equity strategy can feel like boiling the ocean…so where do we start?
“The very first step is defining where you want to go. Have something you want to achieve. And that begins with identifying barriers, and figuring out where you have gaps. Look at every piece of data you have—claims data, engagement surveys, exit interviews—and use it to identify trends. Once you know where your employees are lacking access to healthcare, then you can connect the dots.”
Data emerged as a common theme during our discussion. Ian and Tanya both acknowledged that we can’t achieve equality when bias and anecdotal evidence are involved, so crunching numbers is a huge piece of the health equity pie.
“The data has to come from across teams, and it has to have freedom of mobility across the organization. For example, if you see that someone continues to take hardship withdrawals from their retirement plan, maybe pushing a higher-deductible healthcare plan isn’t the best fit. We need to understand what we’re offering to who, and we need to equip people managers with the right information (even if it’s anonymous) so that they can support their direct reports properly.”
In one example, Tanya shared that Financial Health Network partners with a company that provides managers with a quarterly healthcare usage report, so that they have an understanding of where their teams are focused when it comes to health. Creating “well-being ambassadors” is a boots-on-the-ground approach that gives employers a better idea of their employees’ needs, and offers an additional communication channel to drive benefits awareness.
Take the next step towards health equity
Congrats! Just by reading this blog post, you’ve already started on your journey towards achieving health equity at your organization. But the challenge doesn’t stop here.
It’s time to put the wheels in motion to drive trust with your employees, increase communication, and finally put the right benefits in the right hands, at the right time. But those goals aren’t possible without the right technology.