What they're saying: "It's a serious issue for employers," said Candice Sherman, the CEO of the Northeast Business Group on Health. The group represents roughly 80 large companies such as American Express, Colgate, Moderna and Pfizer.
In a flipbook promoting health equity in employers’ diabetes and obesity intervention efforts, the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) recommended that employers take seven steps to ensure that their interventions are designed and implemented with health equity in mind.
These steps included incorporating the chronic disease interventions into overarching diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, assessing programs for care gaps and inequities, reducing financial barriers to chronic disease prevention and management tools for minority populations, and adopting a value-based insurance design.
In April, the Northeast Business Group on Health, an employer-led coalition of business leaders and healthcare stakeholders, released “Obesity, Diabetes and Racial Health Equity: What Employers Can Do.” The guide is intended to help employers improve benefits-related outcomes for employees with obesity and diabetes, a commonly associated condition, with a special focus on employees of color.
“The science of obesity is unequivocal that obesity is a disease, not an individual’s fault or merely a product of lifestyle choices or environmental conditions,” the guide stated. “People with obesity are often viewed as lacking willpower or self-control and having psychological problems that limit their ability to restrict food intake.”
The weight stigma that arises from misunderstandings about the condition isn’t just a psychological tax on workers with obesity, the guide noted. It also results in underuse of healthcare benefits that can treat the condition and potentially improve their quality of life.
When it comes to obesity and diabetes benefit design, employers can—and should—adopt a health equity mindset, according to a flipbook from the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH).
“Obesity and diabetes disproportionately affect people of color,” the flipbook emphasized. “Racial and ethnic disparities are pronounced in both the prevalence and treatment of obesity.”
The flipbook noted that Native Americans are twice as likely as White people to have diabetes and Black Americans are 50 percent more likely to have type 2 diabetes, which is the predominant type of diabetes and is capable of going into remission, unlike type 1 diabetes.
Employers can lower their healthcare costs by focusing on Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) populations. Reason: A disproportionate number of people in BIPOC populations suffer from obesity and diabetes, and have poor outcomes from COVID-19.
That’s why Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) created the guide “Obesity, Diabetes and Racial Health Equity: What Employers Can Do.” The guide’s purpose is to help HR and Benefits pros develop and implement strategies aimed at achieving racial equity in obesity and diabetes prevention, treatments and outcomes.
Employers have long been focused on addressing obesity and diabetes in their workforces.
However, COVID-19 is pushing them to think about these health challenges in new ways, in particular putting a spotlight on the need to address them among populations of color. To assist in that effort, the Northeast Business Group on Health has released a new guide for employers looking to tackle obesity and diabetes through a racial lens.
"Obesity, Diabetes and Health Equity: What Employers Can Do" lays out a step-by-step approach. Key among them is embedding health outcomes within other diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Another big recommendation is to build benefits to address obesity and diabetes that are based in clinical best practices.
In February, the nonprofit Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH), representing employers that sponsor health benefit plans, released Social Determinants of Health: A Guide for Employers, to help HR and benefits leaders identify and address the health-related social needs of employees and their families.
"Employers have routine, frequent contact with their employees, determine what benefits employees can receive, and can access information that may point to social needs affecting employee health, well-being and productivity at work," said NEBGH CEO Candice Sherman.
The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating employers' efforts to address social determinants of health with their benefit packages, but data collection has to be the first step for employers serious about tackling those needs, according to a new report by a Manhattan-based coalition.
Employers pay for health care coverage for more than half the U.S. population, so they have "too much at stake not to pay more attention" to social determinants of health, said the report released Tuesday by Northeast Business Group on Health, an employer-led coalition of benefits leaders and health care stakeholders.
"Covid and some of the disparities we have seen in outcomes have really shone a light on the impact of social determinants of health," Northeast Business Group on Health CEO Candice Sherman said. "I think now there's a greater urgency to continue working to find new ways of addressing them and solutions."
The group, which compiled the report using a $100,000 grant from Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, said a key hurdle that employers must first overcome is the lack of data on social determinants of health beyond a population level.
One solution is the implementation of screening tools to collect employee data on needs and risk factors, but the report cautions that any surveys should be anonymized to guard individual privacy.
Employers can also collaborate with their health plans and existing vendors or partner with local hospitals to harness data they have already collected. Northwell Health is working to obtain data on social determinants of health during patients' clinical consultations. Montefiore Health System has a survey tool that asks patients about their concerns regarding the stability and quality of their housing, food access, transportation and other social needs.
Insurance carrier UnitedHealthcare launched a predictive analytics program last year to help select employers identify enrollees who could benefit from resources related to social determinants of health. Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare, said eligible members have accepted more than 50% of offers for support.
"We are seeing a growing interest among employers across the country, including in New York, to address social determinants of health needs among their employees, such as lack of affordable housing, nutritious food or internet access," Madsen said.
Sherman said employers should also take a holistic look at the benefits they are providing and add a menu of options related to social determinants of health. She cited as examples two member employers that offer food deliveries as a benefit, one through weekly boxes of fresh produce and another through food-delivery platform DoorDash. Tuition assistance, transportation subsidies and health literacy programs are other benefits that can address employees' common social needs.
Employers can also rework their paid time off policies to include caregiving benefits, such as dedicated leave and care navigation services, the report said.
Once employers identify benefits to add to their packages, platforms like Unite Us, a Manhattan-based health tech startup, can facilitate connections to local social services providers.
Health plans have already integrated solutions like Unite Us, but Sherman said employers should let their insurance carriers know that social determinants of health are a priority.
"That will serve as an impetus for innovation," she said.
Northeast Business Group on Health is based in the Financial District and has 229 members. It was founded in 1982. —Maya Kaufman
The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted social challenges that impact health, and the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) is issuing a new guide that aims to help employers address such issues among their workforces.
The guidebook takes a deep dive into five key social determinants of health: economic stability; education access; healthcare access; neighborhood and built environment; and community. It then offers a step-by-step process for employers to follow if they want to get serious about addressing these issues.
Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH, told Fierce Healthcare that the group has been fielding an increasing number of questions from its members about social needs, which prompted the guide's development.