|Why Companies Are Making Health Disparities Their Business
Within the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics
predicts that 41.5 percent of the workforce will be members of racial
and ethnic minority groups. Many of these groups experience significant
differences in the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions,
utilization of preventive services, and health outcomes, according to
the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).
"Employers need to be aware of these demographic shifts
and to understand that in this new environment, a
‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee health benefits
will not be effective," reads the report "Eliminating Racial and Ethnic
Health Disparities; A Business Case Update For Employers," sponsored by
The report is a component of a two-year initiative set
forth by the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and the NBGH to reduce
racial and ethnic health disparities and to improve the overall quality
ofhealthcare for minority populations through ongoing partnerships and
new business-community coalitions.
Awareness of inequities in the health system is
important according to the report, especially by paying attention to
what other companies may have done by using this information to guide
healthcare service purchases.
Addressing Workforce Needs
Many employers are tailoring programs based upon the
diverse needs of their workforce. For instance, the report mentions
that some pharmaceutical products have actually been proven more
effective for certain populations than for others. The best way to
formulate a comprehensive plan for all employee demographics is to
collect appropriate data and to communicate directly with employees
about their needs and satisfaction.
"Addressing disparities through a quality improvement
framework is promising and can be viewed as good medicine and good
business," stated Aetna – "a corporate pioneer in the area of
addressing health disparities," according to the report.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has attributed health disparities to three main categories of factors:
Patient-Level Variables: These include socioeconomic status, language barriers, poor health literacy, and cultural norms and beliefs about healthcare.
Healthcare Systems-Level Variables:
These are characteristics of healthcare systems that make it difficult
for individuals to navigate their way through the care continuum. Some
examples include organizational complexity, financial complexity, and
geographic location of the healthcare facility.
Care Process-Level Variables:
This set of variables refers to the characteristics of an individual
provider that may contribute to disparities. For instance, the racial
or ethnic bias of a particular organization may inherently contribute
to the provision of care.
While research within the past decade has helped to make
great strides in the eradication of racial/ethnic disparities in health
status, major disparities remain.
"In light of the rapidly diversifying workforce, U.S.
employers cannot afford to continue shouldering the costs and
consequences of unnecessary or unequal healthcare," said the IOM.
Direct benefits to businesses addressing health
disparities are decreases in both utilization and medical costs and in
medical claims costs for serious conditions avoided by better
screenings, treatments and preventive care.
Indirect benefits range from increased employee and
dependent satisfaction with healthcare benefits, increased
productivity, decreased absenteeism, increased employee loyalty,
workforce stability, competitiveness in attracting and retaining talent
and decreased short- and long-term disability costs and workers’
Many of the barriers identified by employers in
preventing them from directly addressing these health disparities, span
difficulties in accessing the proper data, limited resources,
overcoming cultural sensitivities to the subject matter, and reluctance
to acknowledge the impact that disparities were having on their
The steps employers can begin to take in order to trump
this issue for both their employees’ health and their own
business wellbeing are:
- Understand the Legal Myths and Realities
(around collecting racial/ethnic data) – Don’t be afraid
that by targeting disparities you are treating people differently or
unfairly in the collection of this data; it is both in line with the
law, and ensures that disparities are quickly recognized and addressed,
according to the report research.
- Know Your Data – Include benchmarks,
determine what data you wish to collect, what to measure, then
integrate the data collection with the company’s operations, and
use that data in implementing appropriate programs and strategies.
- Work With Employees – Routinely elicit
feedback on access and quality of care, focus on health literacy,
always communicate appropriately with different populations of
employees, tailor your programs keeping all of these needs in mind, and
above all, instill hope in your organization and the community.
- Work With Health Plans and Other Health Vendors
– Work with all healthcare partners to require changes to
plans’ structure, recruitment, training, and tackling
disparities. Inquire about health plan efforts to reduce disparities,
partner with these health plans on data collection, and tailor your
requests for proposals to serve your needs.
Address: National Business Group on Health, 50 F Street NW, Suite 600, Washington DC 20001; (202) 628-9320, www.businessgrouphealth.org.