Expanding access to care may lead to healthier employer groups

Provider shortages are challenging employers to rethink their network strategies to ensure their employees have adequate access to care.

The country could face a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 providers through 2034.1  This projected shortage may exacerbate existing provider deficits in certain states, such as Alabama, Idaho and Arkansas.

  • There are about 57% fewer psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists and advanced practice nurses specializing in mental health per a population of 100,000 in Alabama compared to the national average.2
  • There are about 65% fewer family medicine and internal medicine geriatricians and nurse practitioners per a population of 100,000 in Idaho compared to the national average.2
  • There are about 39% fewer obstetricians, gynecologists and midwives per 100,000 females ages 15 and older in Arkansas compared to the national average.2

Employers in every state, including Alabama, Idaho and Arkansas, which are experiencing some of the sharpest deficits, can work to promote health care access a variety of ways:

Consider provider network options

Ensuring that employees can access quality providers in a timely, cost-efficient manner is key to moving the needle on access to care.

Employers may want to consider revisiting their network strategy to check that their employees have access to the providers they need. With the largest proprietary network of 1.6M+ physicians and health care professionals and 6K+ hospitals, UnitedHealthcare is the benefits carrier of choice for 250K+ employers, from multinational Fortune 500 companies to small family-run businesses.3

UnitedHealthcare looks for opportunities to expand its networks to provide employers with different network options to choose from, including tiered networks that can offer quality care, cost savings and a broad range of choices.

Provider choice

When selecting a network, employers may also want to consider whether the diversity of providers reflects the diversity found within their workforce. Research shows that patients prefer providers who share a similar background as them, but 53% of surveyed Black adults and 39% of Hispanic adults have said it’s very difficult or somewhat difficult to find a doctor who shares their racial or ethnic background in the area where they live.4

Similarly, 70% of transgender and gender non-conforming respondents and 56% of lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents have reported negative experiences with health care providers,5 which has led LGBTQ+ members to defer or delay health care altogether.

To help address this, UnitedHealthcare has worked to incorporate languages spoken, ethnicity and LGBTQ+-supportive provider indicators into its provider directory, allowing employees to more easily identify the provider they may feel most comfortable with.

In addition, UnitedHealthcare has made significant investments to diversify the health care workforce. The United Health Foundation has committed $100M to further advance a diverse health workforce, funding 10K scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds pursuing a health career.6

Virtual options

Virtual health options can provide fast, convenient and on-demand access to care, which can overcome some of the barriers related to provider shortages, transportation challenges and other social determinants of health (SDOH).

For instance, say an employee’s work schedule, personal transportation situation or lack of childcare makes it more difficult for them to make it to an appointment. Virtual health, which is accessible at home or at work, can help employees get the care they need.

“We want to meet members where they are to drive engagement and improved outcomes,” says Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health management at UnitedHealthcare. “Some employees may never use virtual health, but more and more at all ages are going to really want and be thankful for that option.”

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