Wellness benefits often help bridge the gap that social determinants of health tend to create. With the growing popularity of wellness benefits, more companies are prioritizing the mental, physical, and medical health of their employees. However, wellness benefits can be more effective the more they directly address certain determinants of health. Wellness benefits can also make more of an impact when insurance carriers provide employers access to quality wellness packages.
What are Social Determinants of Health?
The CDC describes social determinants of health (SDOH) as “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.” social determinants of health are things like where people are born, and someone's income and neighborhood. Social determinants of health are often out of personal control, yet they make a large impact on one’s health.
These aspects of one's life often determine if one can live a healthy lifestyle and if one has the sole ability to improve their health. It's important to promote health equity by including aspects of social determinants of health into conversations of wellness benefits. These aspects include:
Health Care Access and Quality
One major aspect to consider with social determinants of health is if a person has access to health care. Those with low income and/or no access to transportation are unable to receive the quality care they need. Without proper care, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions cannot be treated, leading to more health issues.
The Centers for Disease Control found that 10% of people in the United States are without health insurance. Because of this, many people also go without a primary care provider, further separating them from quality care. Along with this, those with low income often cannot afford the health care costs to properly treat their health conditions. A wellness program should not only be based on encouraging regular doctor visits but provide support when medical care is hard to receive. A holistic wellness program will help in improving health and reducing health disparities.
Neighborhood and Built Environment
Sometimes, someone's neighborhood gives a disadvantage to their health and medical care. If someone does not have a quality health care facility, or a fitness gym nearby, it is harder for them to prioritize their medical and physical health. Similarly, those in low-income areas, or with housing insecurity may not have their own health as a top priority.
Those that cannot prioritize their own health and wellness may have higher stress and an increase in poor health outcomes. Similarly, those with housing insecurity are more likely to have medical problems like arthritis, seizures, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Wellness programs can help address these needs by providing gym memberships and flexible resources that account for travel time and cost. Insurance companies and Employers can do this by partnering with companies like Peerfit. Peerfit aims to provide employers with corporate fitness programs. Along with this, Peerfit helps provide employees with flexible and easy access to gym memberships and fitness programs in their nearby areas.
Social and Community Context
One of the lesser talked about, but equally important social determinants of health are one’s social contexts. One's community and the way they are treated in social contexts can often be a determining factor in their physical and mental health.
If someone is without a family, group of friends, or otherwise is without a sufficient support system, it could bring negative implications on their health. Without a support system, one can have increased depression and anxiety, and even higher blood pressure. People that are more likely to experience discrimination will also experience these health effects and increased stress.
People of color, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with disabilities are often discriminated against, bringing more health issues. Those that experience racism are more likely to have poor mental and physical health. The CDC found that black people are most likely to have hypertension than any other racial group or ethnic group. It was also found that when those in the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities face prejudice and discrimination, they are likely to have more severe mental disorders.
Employers and insurance carriers can help diminish these negative social contexts by prioritizing a positive and welcoming work environment in their workplace wellness programs. Wellness programs can also include and even encourage the use of mental health resources like counselors and psychiatrists. Wellness programs cannot only improve one's support systems but take action to improve their mental and medical conditions.
Go Beyond Medical Care
Insurance carriers help employers provide medical care to their employers, but insurance packages can go beyond medical benefits to address social determinants of health. Employers are starting to realize the benefits of providing employee wellness programs that support overall health. Employers often see an increase in productivity and a higher attendance rate.
Insurance carriers will benefit from providing a corporate wellness program in their health plan when they start addressing social determinants of health. Providing an employee wellness program will help insurance providers make the switch to value-based and patient-centered care. By addressing an employee's lack of access to quality care, carriers can save money on their overall health care costs. Insurance carriers can offer plans that go beyond medical needs, and make both employers and employers feel supported and seen.