Advising Today’s Worksite

A Turning Point In Employee Health

How community health and social influences influence workforce well-being, productivity, and cost efficiency

by Patty Starr and Craig Kurtzweil

Patty Starr is President and CEO, Health Action Council. Craig Kurtzweil is Chief Data & Analytics Officer UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

A first-of-its-kind study reveals that community health and non-clinical social barriers have a much more profound impact on workforce health than previously recognized.

The report, which focused on Health Action Council (HAC) members’ claims across more than 217,000 covered lives, marks the first study to examine social factors within any claims data. It unveils some of the most comprehensive findings on social determinants of health (SDoH) – the conditions in which people live, learn, work, play, and worship – ever released at the member level.

Titled “Community insights: Key factors that influence employee health,” the seventh annual white paper by HAC and UnitedHealth Group highlights crucial insights for HR and benefits managers to utilize when customizing their plans, ultimately helping to improve the health and productivity of their workforce.

Unveiling Community Divides

One of the white paper’s most striking takeaways is the connection between where employees live, its effect on their life expectancy, and costs for both employers and their employees.

There is an extreme disparity in mortality rates among employees who work for the same company, across various states.

  • When analyzing claims data across states with the most HAC members, South Carolinian employees are 55% more likely to die before age 75 than their Californian coworkers.

Employees who live in less healthy states cost employers more.

  • Approximately 66% of HAC members live within the 20 least healthy states, according to America’s Health Rankings data. If those members lived in the 20 healthiest states, the total covered per member per month (PMPM) amount would be reduced by $61 million — 7% of spend.

Four in ten (41%) children have a parent battling at least one high-risk SDoH hardship, such as social isolation or financial, food or housing insecurities.

  • Those children faced higher rates of suicidal ideation, depression, and ER visits.

Thirty percent of adults are at risk for social isolation, which increases the risk of dementia by 50%, stroke by 32%, and heart disease by 29%.

  • Adults diagnosed with a condition such as diabetes or depression face even higher rates of food insecurity and social isolation, respectively.

Millennials have the highest rates of SDoH risk across generations, as 13% of them are facing three or more SDoH risks.

Taking Action

One of the white paper’s most striking takeaways is the connection between where employees live, its effect on their life expectancy, and costs for both employers and their employees...

This study marks a turning point in benefits strategy, transitioning from the traditional focus on retrospective claims data, company culture, and budgets, to a more comprehensive approach. It emphasizes a need for employers to consider both the geographic locations of their employees and the associated community health and SDoH data to help advance employee health, boost productivity and optimize costs.

The evidence presented is a clear testament of the profound impact that strategic decisions can make in workforce health, operational efficiency, and business performance. For more than 13 years, HAC employers have experienced better health outcomes and beat industry trends, regardless of where their employees are based.

Here are three steps benefits managers can take to help lead this change for their employees and their dependents:

  • Conduct comprehensive analysis: Broaden your data analysis by integrating geographic, community health, and SDoH risk factors. This expanded view should also consider identifying key subpopulations within your workforce to go beyond generic disease categories. Use this in-depth analysis to assess the impact of location on health outcomes and costs, factoring in state health rankings and regional health expenditures. A holistic approach allows for a nuanced understanding of your workforce’s health needs, setting the stage for more targeted interventions.
  • Tailor health solutions: A one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective in addressing the diverse needs of your workforce. Recognizing the unique health challenges among your employee groups allows you to move beyond standard solutions to design health plans and initiatives that are truly reflective of your employees’ varied lifestyles. Engaging directly with employees to understand their specific concerns enables the development of custom tools and resources to help address individual health needs and foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment.
  • Educate your workforce: Empower your employees with knowledge about the importance of timely healthcare access, the benefits of establishing strong relationships with primary care providers, and the value of engaging in preventive healthcare practices. Educating your workforce is crucial in fostering a culture of health awareness and proactive health management, which may ultimately lead to improved health outcomes and enhanced organizational health.

By embracing these strategies, benefits managers can spearhead transformative health management initiatives within their organizations. This approach helps ensure that interventions are grounded in comprehensive data analysis, tailored to meet individual needs, and enhanced by educational efforts to foster a proactive and informed culture of health.




About The Health Action Council
Health Action Council is a not-for-profit organization representing large employers to enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration.


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