August 18, 2020

Many Large Employers Placing a Hard Stop on Return-to-Work Plans

The majority of large employers are pumping the brakes on return-to-work plans in the face of the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, even as they continue looking for new ways to reduce health and social inequities for employees and their families. Those were the findings of a recent member survey conducted by the Pacific Business Group on Health (PBGH).

Respondents included 15 large employers that collectively provide health benefits to roughly four million employees and their dependents.


Onsite plans in limbo
According to the survey, 57% of companies say soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases have led them to put their return-to-work plans on hold until circumstances change. About 43% say they’re continuing to plan for bringing employees back to the worksite, but with multiple, enhanced safety measures in place.

Given the widespread uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year, the vast majority of companies surveyed (82%) say they’re creating flexible schedules for parents with young children. About 18% say they’re providing additional childcare options through specialty vendors.

Reducing inequities
The survey also found organizations are taking a variety of actions to improve social and health equity. Specifically:

  • 67% are evaluating benefits and health & wellness programs to ensure equity in access and use
  • 80% of organizations surveyed say their C-suite and/or Board directors are calling for organizational-wide initiatives to address issues such as hiring policies, promotional advancement and compensation equity
  • 67% are working with local communities in the areas in which they do business
  • 33% are hiring a diversity and inclusion leader

When it comes to specific steps aimed at strengthening health equity through benefit design and health system strategies, companies are likewise pursuing multiple approaches:

  • 57% are ensuring health plans reimburse providers for telehealth services
  • 36% are increasing primary care access and services
  • 21% are expanding and/or ensuring employee access to culturally representative health care providers
  • 21% are requiring that health plans provide utilization and outcomes data by race, ethnicity, language, and gender
  • 14% are expanding benefits for non-medical services, such as transportation and nutrition
  • 14% are expanding access for providers (for example, in underserved areas)

Addressing social determinants
The survey illuminated a greater awareness of the barriers created by social determinants of health: 85% of respondents said they intended to place greater emphasis on financial insecurity, food insecurity, transportation and/or all of the above.

In gauging the adverse impacts of health inequity on employees, large employers worry most about behavioral/mental health (73%), primary care (47%) and chronic disease management (53%).

As for partnering with public health entities to address health inequities, 21% said they were engaged with public health officials in communities in which they work, while 29% said they were not currently doing so but considering it.

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