In today’s competitive job market, employee well-being is a priority for employers who want to take care of their employees and attract top talent. While benefit plans and wellness programs play crucial roles in employee health, addressing social determinants of health can help employers promote overall well-being in their workforce.  

Social determinants of health are the individual circumstances and socioeconomic and environmental factors that impact a person’s health. These factors include access to healthcare, education, food, and housing.  

Beyond lifestyle choices, social determinants of health are a broader range of factors that intertwine to influence every area of a person’s life. For example, if someone is stressed about being able to take care of themselves and their family, they may function less effectively at work. If an employee is functioning poorly at work, they could experience job insecurity. Job insecurity then contributes to housing and food instability. And because heightened stress can contribute to adverse health outcomes, it could lead to medical debt and further financial instability. 

So, to help employees take care of themselves and their families and live healthy, productive lives, it is important for employers to proactively address social determinants of health.  

Impact on Overall Health  

The impact of social determinants of health on overall health is multifaceted. Education, income, employment opportunities, community support, and access to nutritious food directly influence an individual’s health outcomes. Employees facing challenges in any of these areas may experience elevated stress levels, reduced resilience to illness, and increased risk factors for chronic disease. A National Academy of Medicine study found that access to medical care only contributes 10–20% to health outcomes. Other social determinants of health have a much more significant impact on health status (80–90%).  

Beyond offering support resources like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), employers can address social determinants of health by educating their employees about the resources available to them. For example, employers can make sure their employees understand all of the services available through their EAP. Most employees do not take advantage of their employer’s EAP because they are not aware of the range of services that are offered. So, employers should make sure their employees know they can receive services like counseling, legal advice, and help for personal and work-related problems through their EAP.  

Employers can also promote employee health by making a conscious effort to create a supportive work environment. When employees feel supported, they will be more likely to find a proactive solution to work through hardship instead of acting from a place of stress. Taking a supportive approach with employees can lead to higher productivity, less medical leave, and more fulfilled employees in the long run.  

Increased Risk of Medical Debt 

Medical debt is an issue that affects over 100 million Americans and negatively impacts social determinants of health. Specifically, medical debt has been shown to increase the risk of food and housing instability. For employees facing instability, a single medical emergency or chronic health condition can lead to substantial debt, affecting their overall financial, mental, and physical well-being. Poor social determinants of health, like housing instability, can also contribute to worse overall health. And because people with poor health are more likely to have medical debt, this is a vicious cycle. 

Employers can play a crucial role in mitigating medical debt risks for their employees by offering comprehensive health benefits. At The Alliance, we help employers design benefit plans that help their employees stay healthy and productive. Using our Smarter NetworksSM and sophisticated data mining and analysis, we provide transparent, creative approaches to network and benefit plan design to unlock savings for employers and their employees and families.  

When employers support their employees through benefits, financial wellness programs, and professional development opportunities, they contribute to increased income stability and reduce the burden of potential medical debt. Decreasing financial strain will also positively influence other social determinants of health, creating a chain of positive reinforcement. 

Impact of Value-Based Pricing on Social Determinants of Health 

Value-based payment models, which focus on patient outcomes instead of volume of services provided, can have a positive impact on social determinants of health. If payment models shift to reward providers for positive health outcomes like lower rates of obesity, diabetes, or tobacco use, we will see more of those positive outcomes.  

The Alliance works toward payment reform in healthcare by aligning financial incentives to reward providers that deliver high-quality care using a Total Cost of Care model. This model determines reimbursements based on the complete care provided to a patient, allowing us to identify overuse and inefficiencies that often go unnoticed in a fee-for-service system. This model also shifts the responsibility for inefficient care from employers to health systems, identifies cost-saving opportunities and recognizes provider partners who deliver the most cost-effective care to employees and their families. 

Addressing social determinants of health is no longer just an option for responsible employers; it is a necessity to promote a healthy and thriving workforce. By acknowledging the impact of social determinants of health on overall well-being and understanding the connection between poor social determinants of health, poor health, and medical debt, employers can implement meaningful strategies to support their employees’ well-being. 

By offering comprehensive healthcare coverage, financial wellness programs, and educational opportunities, employers can create a supportive and empowering environment for their employees. Investing in employees’ health and happiness should be a top priority for employers because it not only leads to increased productivity but also fosters a sense of dedication and long-term fulfillment.   

Get in touch with us to discover how The Alliance can help you design a benefit plan that supports your employees’ overall health.

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Jennifer Austin

Jennifer Austin

Jennifer Austin joined The Alliance in 2019 and currently leads the teams managing current employer-members and marketing and communication efforts. Before joining The Alliance, Jennifer worked at a number of companies in Chicago and Madison, focusing on marketing and strategy development for hospitals and health systems, including Advocate Healthcare (now Advocate Aurora Health), Augusta University Health, and HCA Healthcare.

Jennifer has a master’s degree in Global Marketing, Communications, and Advertising from Emerson College and a bachelor’s degree in Art and English from The University of Iowa.

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