Employers, is your current cancer strategy good enough?

According to data presented by Willis Towers Watson, cancer represents one of the top three medical and disability expenses for most employers and is responsible for 15% of new disability claims and 9% of existing disability claims.

In addition, the flip side of brilliant advances in cancer treatment is the staggering treatment cost increase. Medical expenditure for cancer is expected to reach more than $239 billion by 2020.

This means big costs for employers and significant beyond-insurance costs for employees who will at some point be well enough to return to work. 

Catalyst for Payment Reform (or CPR, an independent, nonprofit corporation on a mission to help employers and other health care purchasers get better value for their health care dollar) cite the following reasons why cancer is one of the primary drivers of increasing healthcare costs for employers:

  • Cancer affects millions and incidence of cancer diagnosis is rising.
  • It’s a complex condition with complex care requirements.
  • Treatment of cancer is extremely expensive.


With a rising incidence of cancer in the workforce, employers are faced with rising costs, lost productivity and low morale. Strategies to deal with this need to be multi-faceted:

Employer strategies for managing cancer must start with prevention. How?

  • Promote and reward a healthy lifestyle. Researchers estimate that 50% of cancer cases and deaths in the U.S. could be prevented if people adopted simple healthy lifestyle choices, e.g., avoid smoking and alcohol, maintain healthy weight, exercise regularly. If adopted, many of these healthy behaviors result in a more productive day, a win-win for employees and employers.
  • Be at the forefront of vaccination campaigns. Currently, there are vaccines available for HPV and Hepatitis B which protect against or lower risk of cervical, liver and some other types of cancer. There are likely to be many developments in this space in the coming years and employers should commit to being at the forefront of providing access to vaccines that protect against cancer.
  • Get your employees screened. Naturally, given UDoTest’s mission, this is a solution I am very passionate about. Screening rates for breast, cervical, and colon cancer in the US are far below target. I believe that the best way to change this is for employers to facilitate more convenient and less intimidating screening methods that employees can do at home.

What is your business strategy for handling costs and supporting employees diagnosed with cancer?

Exploring accountable care organization (ACO) strategies for better case management and value of care, reviewing services that provide palliative care while employees are on treatment for better management of symptoms and improved quality of life, and consider innovative pharmacy payment strategies to manage costs are all options available for supporting employees with a cancer diagnosis.

Are your managers and employees coached on how to integrate employees returning to work after cancer diagnosis?

In debt, emotionally changed because of what they’ve been through, and facing the stigma of their diagnosis through their colleagues’ eyes, employees returning to work after a cancer diagnosis will need support.

A ‘Cancer in the workplace’ report published in 2017 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, surveyed 500 employees to gain a view of current approaches. According to this survey, “When asked in which areas their company needs to improve its policies towards employees with cancer, survey respondents are most likely to point to training, so that managers are prepared for dealing with direct reports with serious illnesses. Furthermore, 33.8% say there is room for better information on their company’s guidelines and policies for serious illnesses.”