Cancer ‘complex and intimidating’ for benefit professionals
The fact that cancer costs are higher than ever is reason enough for employers to be concerned, but new research is giving them another reason to worry: They may not be doing enough for employees suffering from the disease.
Employers are concerned about the high cost of cancer care, but they’re equally concerned about making sure employees and family members diagnosed with cancer are receiving top-quality care, says a new report from Northeast Business Group on Health.
The group recently released a report identifying key things benefits professionals can be doing to address both these concerns. The information follows workshops, interviews with plan managers, and a survey of about 20 self-insured employers.
“Cancer is complex and intimidating for benefits professionals, combining the need to contract for effective and high-quality care with the need to assist employees and beneficiaries in coping with the varied psychological and social needs surrounding a cancer diagnosis and treatment,” says Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, which conducted the work.
Cancer costs are of increasing concern to employers. They consistently rank at the top in terms of employers’ healthcare costs, despite the fact that cancer has a significantly lower prevalence among employees than conditions like diabetes, hypertension and musculoskeletal disorders.
Though cancer only impacts only 1-2% of employees, Nobel explains, cancer costs are currently 12-13% of premiums. They are growing at 15% annually — roughly twice the pace of general healthcare. Much of that growth is driven by roughly 25% cost increases in specialty pharma meds used in cancer treatment.
“This has driven employer concern to heightened levels as they struggle to make sense of this cost acceleration and search for ways it can best be addressed without impairing the quality of care available for beneficiaries,” Nobel says.
“On par with employers’ concern about cost — and in many cases even topping it — is employers’ worry and uncertainty about the quality of cancer care that employees and dependents receive,” the report says.
But despite the concerns over cancer, the report indicates, not enough is being done to address the issues.
Less than half of survey respondents said they have a network of high-performing oncology providers in place, and results also show there are variations and gaps in the non-clinical support services offered, such as treatment navigation, emotional counseling and financial planning services.
And while 74% of employers offer access to support for treatment questions and related illnesses, just 37% offer financial support services specific to cancer, such as financial planning. And nearly half do not offer second opinion services outside of their health plan.
Another gap, Nobel says, is the “lack of accessible, organized and systematic communications efforts” directed at employees.
Survey results reveal that 68% of employers don’t have accessible, organized, and systematic communications efforts for cancer-related benefits. Less than one-third provide cancer-related trainings and resources for supervisors, managers and co-workers.
“It’s not that employers are falling short by being inattentive or uncaring; it’s more that the intrinsic complexity and challenges associated with managing cancer and its related concerns are accelerating, requiring new and more comprehensive strategies and approaches,” Nobel says.
Among the actionable steps NEBGH recommends is that employers should compare current benefits, programs and policies with those offered by other employers and try to benefit from group purchasing of cancer-related services.
“The big takeaway is that there are things employers can be doing in managing cancer-related care, costs and consequences, and that in doing so they improve the health and well-being of beneficiaries as well as the bottom line,” Nobel says.