Promising Trends in Health and Benefits for Black Employees 

Feb 24 2022

For some employers, Black History Month has served as a prompt to consider ways to create a culture that will attract and retain talent from the Black community. While recruitment strategies, pay equity review, and mentorships might be at the top of the list of action items, employers are also reviewing their health and benefits programs to look for opportunities to improve access, experience, and outcomes for their Black employees. Here are several promising trends with the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of Black individuals.

Provider diversity. Research shows that when the race of the patient matches the race of the provider, there may be improved outcomes and enhanced member experience. To allow for that kind of matching, health plans and other benefit providers (e.g., dental carriers, employee assistance programs, and vision carriers) need to include demographics such as race and ethnicity in their provider directories, and some have begun to collect that information from providers on a voluntary, self-identified basis. In addition, some carriers offer their network providers training in cultural competency and cultural humility.

Social Determinants of Health. The conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and recreate affect their quality of life and their health risks and outcomes. These social determinants of health (SDOH) include economic stability, education access and quality, access to transportation and food, access to quality health care services, and neighborhood safety. Health plans and other benefit programs are beginning to identify SDOH risks and needs in their covered populations and provide navigation to community-based organizations that can help. Since SDOH issues disproportionately impact the Black community, these efforts can help identify and address social barriers that may be affecting the health of Black colleagues.

Virtual care. The need to avoid in-person visits to traditional healthcare facilities during the pandemic has escalated the use of virtual care options such as apps, telehealth and texting with providers. Research has shown that there are variations by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other demographics in both the use of virtual care and the type of virtual care used. These studies show that Black individuals are more likely to use virtual care options when they are available, and that Blacks prefer using telephonic channels for interacting rather than interacting through app based channels. This reinforces the concept of offering multi-channel access to virtual care in order to support the needs of a diverse workforce with varying preferences.

Value-based care. Employers have implemented a range of value-based care strategies in recent years, including accountable care organizations, patient-centered medical homes, clinically integrated networks, and centers of excellence. One study has shown that when a joint replacement center of excellence was implemented, Black patients had the largest reductions in discharges to post-acute care facilities (such as nursing homes) and also reductions in readmissions. Another study showed that when primary care and behavioral health professionals are co-located in the Collaborative Care Model for birthing parents, the disparities between Blacks and whites for screening and treating depression during pregnancy were eliminated.

Verticalized navigators. While there are many navigation solutions available to employers and their members to help facilitate coordination to the array of benefits available to them, until recently these have generally taken a one-size-fits-all approach rather than focusing on the specific needs of a particular group. That’s changing as new verticalized navigators enter the market. Some focus on members with specific health needs (e.g., diabetes, weight management, cardiac), but others are designed to address the medical, behavioral, and wellness needs of the specific populations, such as the Black community. Providing one or more of these verticalized navigation solutions may result in better access to health care services and community resources to specifically meet the needs of Black employees.

Health equity. The road to health equity starts by discovering where health inequities or disparities exist. A critical first step is to work with health plans, data warehouse vendors, and other stakeholders to incorporate member demographics such as race and ethnicity in claims databases so that demographic analyses can be performed to identify inequities in treatment and disparities in outcomes – and corresponding actions can be taken to ameliorate them. Health plans, hospital associations, and others have launched initiatives to enhance health equity in the Black community, and employers can ask for transparent reporting to see the progress that is being made with these efforts.

These developments offer employers new opportunities to engage their health and benefits programs in support of overall diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies – while improving the health status of their Black employees. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is often quoted as saying in his speech in 1966 to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” By using their influence and leverage with benefit vendors, employers can help build momentum to address the health disparities that exist within the Black community.

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