The U.S. Surgeon General on Tuesday released its first ever report that attempts to make the business case for why companies should invest in improving community health.
In a call with reporters, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said the report is intended to provide guidance for business leaders on how they can work with and invest in communities to address their health challenges.
But he felt it could also help raise more awareness about the economic benefits for businesses that make health a factor in their policies and decisions.
“We need to help people understand that being pro-health doesn’t mean that you are anti-business,” Adams said. “There is good data out there and many examples, which demonstrate that being pro-health and pro-healthy communities actually is good for business.”
The report called on businesses to work closer with community stakeholders to identify major health challenges and form partnerships to address them. Companies should also assess their own negative impact on the community’s health and include community health metrics within its overall performance indicators to evaluate its operations.
Mounting evidence has shown social conditions like poverty, hunger and housing instability have a lasting impact on community health, which in turn has led to a rise in health costs for employers, both in health insurance premiums and lost employee productivity. The average full-time worker with diabetes misses an estimated 5.5 workdays annually, according to the report. Unplanned absences related to diabetes cost U.S. employers an estimated $20 billion a year in lost productivity.
U.S. life expectancy ranked 28th among the 37 Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development countries in 2018, according to a 2020 America’s Health Rankings report. That’s in spite of the U.S. spending nearly three times more than the average amount others spent on health.
COVID-19 is projected to increase the economic burden on employers that provide healthcare, as the long-term health challenges of the virus are not yet known. The National Business Group on Health in August found that large employers projected a more than 5% rise in their health benefits costs in 2021 due to the pandemic.
The Surgeon General’s report reflects a change Adams has seen in how businesses view their role as a societal partner. A growing number of companies are incorporating community health as an important part of their business models to help maintain a viable workforce.
“Increasingly, businesses are measuring success by how much value they create for all their stakeholders—shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and the broader community,” Adams said.
Businesses outside and within the healthcare sector need to better understand the link between social determinants of health and health outcomes, Adams said. He called on healthcare providers to help promote wellness and preventive care as a means of reducing the negative economic impact of poor health.
“Make yourself available to your church, your local school, and your local businesses to leverage that bully pulpit that you have so that more people are aware of how the negative health conditions are impacting the business bottom line,” Adams said.