Employer-sponsored healthcare benefits account for a significant portion of a worker’s compensation, yet they often go underutilized. According to research, 56% of people surveyed feel “completely lost” in trying to understand health insurance, even though about three-quarters of those surveyed report being on an employer-sponsored plan. 

Many barriers plague workers aside from lack of health insurance literacy, including financial constraints and no access to reliable transportation. In order to fully support employees’ healthcare needs, employers must consider social determinants of health — income, community, transportation, literacy, housing — as they think about improving access to healthcare. Read on to discover ways to increase healthcare approachability for your employee population.  

Worksite Healthcare Improves Health Equity 

According to a 2021 report by Mercer and the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, nearly a third of all organizations with at least 5,000 employees offer workers a primary care clinic. Nearly all respondents noted providing their employees with access to quality care as a key consideration in their decision to open a health center onsite.  

Options for both large, medium and small employers include shared Network or near-site employee health centers and virtual primary care that opens healthcare access for even remote employees spread across the U.S. Each of these options provides regular, convenient access to care for employees in diverse industries and geographies. 

“As pillars within their communities, our customers feel a sense of social responsibility,” says Dr. Michael H. Huang, a Marathon Health Physician. “They’ve approached worksite healthcare as a tool to provide health and wellness at the workplace, which in turn supports health and wellness in the home and in the community.” 

By offering healthcare services at a free or reduced cost, employers remove a huge barrier to access, and benefit from a healthier, happier and more productive workforce. 

“A lot of people feel like there’s a financial risk and liability to get healthcare,” says Marathon Health Corporate Medical Director Dr. Terry Layman. “There’s always this black box. They’re like, ‘I don’t know how much it’s going to cost to go in there. And then they’re always going to recommend something I can’t afford, as well.’ So I think there is a huge cost issue.” 

Employers, however, can see a $2,000 savings per employee who engages with the work health center, according to data compiled from Marathon Health’s customers. In year one, they’ll see a 1:1 return on their investment and by year three, they’ll see a 2:1 ROI or better.  

Carolyn Smalls, human resources director for Chatham County, Georgia, notes how their employee health center provides medical care and prescriptions free of charge. “We also waived copays for outpatient mental health services for the last two years, because we know, especially during the pandemic, people suffering more from anxiety and depression has been a big issue,” she says. 

Education + Engagement 

Of course to get employees and their families to use onsite, near-site and virtual primary care services, employers must inform and engage workers on the options available to them. 

“For employers in general, I do think training and education could be expanded upon more,” says Rebecca Berlin, a health coach at Marathon Health. “Not only diversity and inclusion training, but ‘What are your benefits? How can you utilize them?’ It takes education and spreading that information just to make their employees aware of the benefits they have, particularly when it comes to their health.” 

Friendly programming, like meet-and-greets, health fairs and testimonials, helps engage employees in healthcare offerings, she adds. 

Smalls credits Marathon Health’s Healthy Like Me campaign with inspiring Chatham County staff to utilize their healthcare benefits. 

 “Chatham County has had several winners,” she says. “Employees read the stories of their coworkers and their challenges with some healthcare issue and how they overcame it, and that makes it OK [to seek help].” 

Removing Barriers 

Noting how oil and gas operations tend to be in regions without strong healthcare access, Frank Alexander, Manager of Health and Welfare Benefits for ConocoPhillips, says they offer employees enrolled in benefits free access to expert medical opinions if they’re diagnosed with a significant healthcare condition or disease.

“Whether it is cancer, diabetes or heart disease, they are able to be connected to a nationally recognized expert who operates in that field of medicine and receive a free expert opinion on their diagnosis and treatment plan,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you live. If you’re faced with a significant healthcare challenge, you have access to the best medical care or the best medical experts anywhere in the country.”

Prompted by the pandemic, patients with limited spare time or lack of transportation benefit from virtual care options. Berlin adds employers may consider offering employees paid breaks to visit health centers, which encourages them to attend to health needs.

For off-site employees, many workplaces bring health services to them, whether it be flu shot clinics or biometric screenings.

Patient Navigation 

Marathon Health’s foundation is the relationship between provider and patient, using methods such as appreciative inquiry to engage patients in the physical, emotional and environmental factors that define their health.  Because providers work outside of the fee-for-service model, they have time to engage patients in conversations about their health and wellbeing in the larger context of their life. Providers then use their learnings to provide patient advocacy and navigation across the entire spectrum of available services, whether that be: 

  • Providing referral coordinators who help patients find the best specialty providers and services; scheduling appointments; and ensuring patient follow-through via appointment confirmations. 
  • Utilizing price transparency tools to help patients make value-based decisions.  
  • Addressing social determinants of health issues that may be impacting patients. 
  • Connecting patients to other resources (support groups, fitness opportunities, stress management, etc.). 

A recent study found workers trust their employers to be a top source for obtaining accurate health information, second only to national health authorities. Employers must take a holistic approach to employee health and wellbeing.  

“The longer visits help our care teams address more,” Berlin says. “You can also visit the lab and perhaps pick up a prescription the same day or the next day, or have it delivered. Onsite, near-site and virtual care just really helps with efficiency and saves employees’ time.” 

This article is part of a four-part series on how employers can deliver an equitable healthcare experience for all employees. Explore the other articles to learn more about the value of health equity , how health risk assessments and employee surveys can uncover health barriers, and how to destigmatize healthcare in the workplace. 

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