Employers are increasingly aware that social factors, such as where employees live, the food they have access to and the income they earn, can have a significant impact on health and well-being. workers. These and other social determinants of health (SDoH) are strongly associated with health outcomes, especially among low-income workers and those from historically marginalized groups.

In February, the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH), a nonprofit representing employers who sponsor health insurance plans, published Social Determinants of Health: A Guide for Employers, to help human resource managers and benefits to identify and address the social health needs of employees. and their families.

“Employers have regular and frequent contact with their employees, determine what benefits employees may receive, and can access information that may indicate social needs affecting the health, well-being and productivity of employees at work, a said NEBGH CEO Candice Sherman.

The 48-page guide lists the main SDoHs as follows:

  • Economic stability.
  • Access to education and quality.
  • Access and quality of health care.
  • Neighborhood and environment.
  • Social and community context.

Employers can take steps to meet the social needs of their employees by:

  • Collect data using a health risk assessment tool or employee survey.
  • Evaluate conceptions of benefits for equity.
  • Provide health benefits education and financial counseling.
  • Consider benefits that may not be available (eg, caregiving, tuition reimbursement).

“Employers have too much at stake not to pay more attention to the social determinants of health,” Sherman said.

Social factors and obesity

Social disadvantage is associated with a higher likelihood of being overweight, new research finds
Obesitythe journal of the nonprofit Obesity Society.

The study, Social Determinants of Health and Obesity: Findings from a National Study of United States Adults, was published in the February 2022 issue of the journal. The main finding was that cumulative social disadvantage, denoted by higher SDoH burden, was associated with increased levels of obesity.

“It is crucial for us to respond [SDOH] if we want to start tackling the complex, multifactorial disease that is obesity,” said Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, obesity physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Linking benefits to social determinants

Understanding the SDoH that employees live with can help determine whether employees are enrolled in the right benefit plans, according to a Feb. 23 webcast sponsored by the Conference Board, a business membership and research organization in New York.

Jennifer Jones, population health practice lead at Springbuk, an Indianapolis-based health data analytics service provider, encouraged employers to use employee SDoH to assess the suitability of benefit offerings. social.

“It’s about asking the right questions to uncover where your benefit gaps are and guiding strategies to close those gaps, using your core and ancillary benefits,” Jones said.

Some of the questions she offered are best answered through anonymous health risk assessment surveys. Answers to other questions can be found by analyzing data from payroll/HR information systems, disability data, aggregate plan sponsor 401(k) data, and aggregate health claims data. third-party insurers or administrators.

Additionally, external data sources may be used, such as government statistics for the neighborhoods where employees live.

The SDoH questions suggested by Jones included the following:

Health care

  • What percentage of wages goes to health care premiums and/or personal expenses?
  • Which services/prescription drugs result in out-of-pocket expenses?
  • What percentage of employees are dependent on disability income?

Benefits that may help: limit health care cost sharing or fund health savings accounts or health care reimbursement arrangements.

Pension saving

  • What is the average deferral percentage of pension plans?
  • What percentage of employees take hardship withdrawals?

Benefits that can help: employer contributions to 401(k) or other retirement accounts.

child care

  • What percentage of employees raise infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children?

Benefits that may help: employer-sponsored or subsidized child care.

Neighborhoods and transportation

  • What percentage of employees have reliable transportation to get to work?
  • What percentage lives/works in high crime areas?

Benefits that can help: work-from-home policies; assistance in setting up a home office; subsidized transport costs.

Access to food

  • What percentage of employees live in a nutritious food desert?
  • What percentage lives in a fast food swamp?

Benefits that can help: nutrition counseling, healthy food deliveries and nutritious meals served at work.

Personalized Benefits

During the Conference Board webcast, Tracy Allie-Hernandez, senior director of human resources at Allstate Insurance Co. in Northbrook, Illinois, described how the company’s Choice Dollars benefits program addresses social factors affecting the health and well-being of employees.

For employees who don’t need to be on the employer-sponsored health plan — for example, if they’re covered by their spouse’s plan — the Choice Dollars program provides them with funds they can spend on other benefits that best meet their needs, such as contributions to a 401(k) or HSA, child care expenses, student loan repayments, or pet insurance premiums .

“We’re investing in our employees in a more equitable way and making sure we give them choice in how they spend their money,” Allie-Hernandez said.

Another way Allstate is addressing SDoH is to provide access to telehealth, which can be crucial for employees with limited access to locally available healthcare. For employees without a primary care physician, the company provides a voucher to travel to the local Labcorp facility for an annual blood panel analysis.

“Removing barriers is the goal of ensuring employees have access to health services in the way they feel most comfortable,” Allie-Hernandez said.


Related SHRM article:

Employers are tackling the social factors that put workers’ health at risk,
SHRM onlineApril 2019