New NEBGH guide aims to help employers tackle social determinants of health

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted social challenges that impact health, and the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) is issuing a new guide that aims to help employers address such issues among their workforces.

The guidebook takes a deep dive into five key social determinants of health: economic stability; education access; healthcare access; neighborhood and built environment; and community. It then offers a step-by-step process for employers to follow if they want to get serious about addressing these issues.

Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH, told Fierce Healthcare that the group has been fielding an increasing number of questions from its members about social needs, which prompted the guide's development.

"Employers are really in a good position to do some things that could really positively impact employees who might be dealing with some of these health-related social needs," she said.

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For example, employers have existing partnerships with health plans and local providers that can be critical in providing necessary data as well as connecting people with services that may help them. Zip code-level data, for instance, may be valuable for tracking community challenges employees may face.

In addition, these partners can help shape risk assessment surveys. The guide suggests employers gather additional data through surveys or risk assessments.

Once they've gathered enough data to work from, the guide encourages employers to reexamine their benefits packages for improvements that may help address members' social needs. Potential updates and additions include caregiving benefits and tuition reimbursement.

Sherman said that employers should adopt an "equity lens" when taking a look at new benefits strategies.

"Sometimes there’s a lack of awareness about how different benefit designs that employees might choose might effect their access and the cost of their healthcare," she said.

Members of NEBGH cover 6 million lives in the U.S. and 10 million globally. The report was developed in partnership with the Mother Cabrini Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve the health of New Yorkers living in vulnerable communities.