How a diverse workforce can help to improve employee health
A work culture of diversity brings with it new ideas, ways of thinking and problem solving, and greater creativity and innovation. But, committing to diverse hiring practices alone isn’t enough to fully support a workforce that includes employees of different generations, gender, race, ability, LGBTQ+ community, and socioeconomic status. Your employee benefits also need to reflect this shift.
This article was originally published by the New England Employee Benefits Council.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to health care. By choosing and offering a health plan that’s flexible and features comprehensive benefits, you’ll be able to help all your employees access care and live healthier lifestyles.
Look for benefits that offer flexible options for different needs
One way to improve your employees’ access to care is through benefits that offer alternatives to typical methods of obtaining treatment or medications. These include:
- Telehealth (aka telemedicine): Virtual care options make it easy for members to see a provider from anywhere. Employees with limited access to transportation or mobility issues can greatly benefit from being able to talk with a doctor from home. It’s also a great convenience for employees with busy lifestyles or children and can make it easy to see a doctor without missing work. Some health plans may also charge less for virtual care, making telehealth a more affordable option for health care.
- Pharmacy: Prescription medications are a critical part of health care. For people with chronic conditions or ongoing care needs, pharmacy benefits are especially important. Options like mail order and 90-day supplies of medications make it easier, and often more economical for employees to get their medications in a timely manner, without having to worry about missing a dose or planning a trip to the pharmacy. Some plans also cover many common over-the-counter drugs (with a prescription) at low or no-member cost. Others offer no member cost to members for certain drugs that treat chronic condition, such as medications used to treat depression, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart and high blood pressure.
- Wellness programs: Many health plans now offer online wellness platforms that encourage healthy living through free resources, wellness plans, webinars, fitness challenges, and more. These platforms typically include a wellness survey with questions about employee health and wellness goals to give personalized recommendations. These tools offer a simple way to tailor health information for individuals who are part of a diverse workforce. They can also be an affordable alternative to gym memberships or fitness classes.
Highlight important health plan benefits
Employees can’t make use of health plan benefits they aren’t aware they have. This can result in increased health care costs and worse health outcomes. When possible, it’s a good idea to promote health plan benefits that can help employees look out for their unique care needs. These promotions can take the form of flyers (for break rooms or payroll stuffers) emails, newsletters, and presentations. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to break out the communications into different or staggered communications if it’s not all shared at once. By segmenting information in small pieces, it may be more welcome and read by your employees.
Potential benefits to highlight include telehealth, pharmacy, and wellness programs, as mentioned above. You might also consider promoting the following benefits that are designed to make healthy living accessible to everyone.
Your employees all have different care needs. Depending on an individual’s situation, different risk factors come with different preventive care recommendations. While primary care providers typically offer guidance on when to have certain preventive services, your employees may not know that certain services defined as preventive by established federal guidelines are covered at no member cost sharing.
Make sure your employees are aware that services like an annual wellness exam or certain preventive screenings, lab tests, immunizations, and counseling are included as part of their plan. By doing so, you can help employees stay on top of the health concerns they may be at risk for due to their individual combination of traits and family history. Greater awareness around preventive care can also encourage employees to make a check-up appointment they might otherwise avoid due to cost concerns.
Care management programs
Many health insurers offer programs and support to help employees manage their chronic health conditions. Care management programs typically involve one-on-one help and are often covered by health plans at no cost to members. These conversations can take place over the phone, making them easy to access when transportation and time constraints are a concern. With a care manager, employees get help creating a plan to manage their health and follow treatments recommended by their health care provider. For employees suffering from diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or other acute and chronic conditions, these programs can make an important difference in their overall health and quality of life.
It’s also important to look for a plan that addresses social determinants of health and works to remove barriers to accessing care. Different kinds of care management programs may focus on this need specifically. For example, AllWays Health Partners has a community-based program that works to meet members in need wherever they may be— starting with comprehensive assessments and developing member-centered care plans to collaborating with an interdisciplinary team.
Your specific health plan offering may also include unique benefits that make care more affordable for your employees. These might look like fitness or weight loss benefits, where members can get money back on fitness memberships (or virtual subscriptions) and weight loss memberships. Other examples remove member cost sharing for their first 6 visits for: acupuncture, chiropractor, and physical/occupational therapy, plus includes no-cost drugs for treating chronic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, heart and high blood pressure, and depression.
By offering and promoting these unique benefits, you can help more of your employees live a healthy lifestyle and get the care they need at a cost they can better afford.
Communicate effectively during open enrollment and throughout the year
Before you start promoting the benefits and features of your health plan, think about what these communications look like. When health plan information is difficult to understand or inaccessible, your employees don’t have the tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
Here are three steps you can take to make health plan information easier to access for employees from all walks of life:
- Follow open enrollment best practices: Clear communication is key during open enrollment. Information about your health plan should be easy to understand and access, to help your employees fully understand their options and plan benefits. Offer a presentation on your employee health plan, and make sure it takes place during a time when your employees can attend. Your health plan can support you with a presentation. You could also record the session and share it out for employees to re-watch at their convenience.
- Help improve health literacy: The healthcare industry is full of complex terms and definitions that are important to fully understanding health plan benefits. Without a good understanding of key terms, employees may struggle to make informed decisions about their plan and access care. Employers can help by making sure their employees are aware of important terms like the ones included in this blog post.
- Address language barriers and disability concerns: Accessibility is an important component of equity in health care. Regardless of your employees’ language or disability, they should be able to get the materials and assistance they need to effectively manage their health. Your health plan website should offer a translation tool, so all the content is accessible to any employees whose first language isn’t English. Their customer service team should also have a process in place for handling calls in various languages, such as through an interpreter or through the support of a multilingual staff member. Live chat services, email support, also TTY numbers also make customer service assistance accessible for employees who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired.
Find the right health plan
If your current employee health plan doesn’t have the flexibility or comprehensive benefits you need to fully support your diverse employees, it may be time to consider a switch. Talk with your employee benefits advisor about other options that are designed to help you achieve equity in your workplace.