Building Better, More Inclusive Health Benefits for Women
September 28, 2022
Employers are increasingly recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to employee benefits does not deliver. In a diverse workforce, employees have a broad range of needs and, to build a resilient workforce, benefits programs must be crafted to respond accordingly. As part of these efforts, employers are taking a closer look at ways to support the healthcare needs of women.
While many health plans have fallen short in addressing women’s needs in areas such as maternity, fertility, menopause, certain cancers and other health issues, it’s crucial that new benefits take a more inclusive approach. Plus, with the new landscape in the United States around reproductive rights, businesses will need to make further considerations in particular states and regions.
“In the past, we had plans that were the same for everyone,” says Natalia Guarin, wellbeing consultant at Aon. “Health needs are quite different for women. Not all women have the same expectations or the same plans for their future. So we need to be more flexible about these healthcare benefits.”
The effort to improve women’s healthcare requires a holistic approach to wellness, a well-informed workplace dialogue, and an awareness of local laws. Currently, many health plans and society’s attitudes to women’s health don’t address ongoing needs.
“The narrative right now around women’s health involves a lack of support for common discomfort,” says Avneet Kaur, principal, Health Solutions at Aon EMEA. “The narrative is more that women should tough it out. That includes pain around monthly cycles, maternity and menopause. That sort of approach needs to change to make sure that we are having more balanced and comprehensive healthcare support for women.”
“For better benefits and plans, we need more awareness and understanding about women’s health,” says Rachel Western, principal, Health Solutions at Aon U.K. “Things like training, education, line manager awareness, policy, strategy and supportive tools can build awareness for all and help support individuals or women going through various life stages.”
Addressing Regional Differences
Across regions, women’s employee healthcare plans vary in terms of current coverage and needs. For example, a recent report noted that the U.S. healthcare system falls short of those of other high-income countries in meeting women’s health needs.
In many other countries, the government is the primary healthcare provider. However, those systems often present their own challenges in meeting women’s healthcare needs. Western notes that in the U.K., care through the National Health Service is generally managed at the primary care level through general practitioners. “Those general practitioners are often not experienced in certain women’s health issues,” she says.
In other regions, key concerns are driving healthcare plans. In Brazil, the government is taking steps to reduce the country’s high rate of births by cesarean section. Elsewhere, employers might face challenges with shortages of specialized providers or budgetary constraints.
When addressing regional differences and concerns, organizations can fill gaps through training and education on women’s health, says Kaur.
Building Family Planning In
When it comes to creating families, healthcare plans can be improved through expanding the scope of coverage.
Women undergoing fertility treatments, for example, have tight time constraints for procedures to retrieve eggs and might have to miss work on very short notice.
“Employers need to support women with fertility, but they often don’t because they don’t understand it,” says Western. “Actually having the support of the employer, and education and awareness of what individuals who are going through fertility treatment are exposed to, becomes really important,” she says.
Inclusive health plans should also expand their notions of family structures.
“When businesses are looking at diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, they often hit barriers when things like surrogacy come into play,” says Western. “Surrogate’s costs aren’t often covered by plans but should be.”
New Considerations Around Abortion
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 in a move that meant that individual states have differing laws and regulations around abortion and other reproductive services. Organizations in the U.S. should now consider whether to build in options to their employer-sponsored benefits to help support their employees access to healthcare.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to think about this change and what it means for employees,” says Kerri M. Willis, senior vice president of U.S. Health Solutions at Aon. “When considering whether to update company benefits, employers should follow the same guideposts they would on other benefit decisions: take into account their culture, their business and the benefits and perspectives competitors are offering, along with their overarching employee strategy.”
So far, the landscape of employer actions is diverse, ranging from statements to changes in benefits policy, including helping their employees with travel costs should they need access to reproductive services not available near their home.
“The disparate state laws present complexity and potential risks, and companies need to assess the level of risk they are willing to assume,” says Willis.
Beyond that, this moment may prompt employees to ask about other benefits that provide more support to women. “That might include family planning or family care benefits, travel benefits for reproductive healthcare or gender confirmation procedures, or expanded mental health benefits,” says Willis.
Better Plans for Recruitment and Retention
Building holistic healthcare benefits for women can also serve as a powerful tool for workforce resilience and recruitment.
“We’re seeing many companies in the UK working to better understand why women are leaving employment,” says Western. “And often, it’s due to women’s health issues. This means benefits programs for physical and mental health, but also pay inequalities and other policies that may indirectly impact health.”
Some employers have identified leave policies, flexible work, and more benefits as tied to both mental and physical wellbeing — for women and all employees. Some have discovered women who go on maternity leave may come back to work with a growing pension gap, which affects the rest of their career. The examples are many and can multiply over time.
With the experience of the pandemic raising many of these issues to the forefront, many women are increasingly advocating for themselves, asking current and prospective employers to spotlight their health.
“Women are talking about some of these issues more,” says Western. “And the more we see companies doing more, it is making employees actually ask their employers, why are we not doing anything? There is definitely a bit of a shift in that area. Women are demanding more.”
Editor’s note: Aon’s own benefit policy provides a travel reimbursement element for people seeking healthcare outside a home state.