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Employers can take steps to improve employee cancer treatment

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The New York-based Northeast Business Group on Health this week released a report that aims to help employers navigate the costly realm of employee cancer care, while also ensuring employees with a cancer diagnosis receive quality care.

The report, “Employers and Cancer Care Quality: A Closer Look,” is based on an employer survey, interviews with oncology experts and employee benefits professionals, and two workshops, and provides resources and insight into employer best practices for helping employees combat cancer.

NEBGH found that employers leading the way in quality cancer care have hired cancer nurse managers dedicated to their employees; implemented paid time off for approved family medical leave; developed a cancer-specific portal and guide for benefits, programs and policies; and trained managers and workers in appropriate behavior and human resource policies related to cases where an employee discloses a cancer diagnosis.

The survey of 19 self-insured employers representing about 1.2 million workers showed that 58% of those surveyed provide employees with access to oncology centers of excellence, 48% offer critical illness insurance, and 42% provide a network of high-performing oncology doctors.

About three quarters of employers surveyed offer access to support for treatment questions and related illnesses, and 68% provide decision support or guidance for employees who have been told they may have cancer.

And only 37% of employers surveyed offer financial support services specific to cancer, such as financial planning, according to the report.

The survey also found that communications surrounding cancer care and benefits is lacking. Less than a third of employers provide cancer-related training and resources for supervisors, managers and co-workers, the survey showed.

Sixty-eight percent of employers surveyed do not have accessible, organized, and systematic communications for cancer-related benefits, and 58% don’t offer an online portal with evidence-based cancer resources and patient communication guides.

“Employee benefits professionals often serve as the gateway to accessing cancer care during a tumultuous time for employees and families,” Laurel Pickering, president and CEO of NEBGH, said in a statement announcing the report. “Employers are invested in the well-being of their employees, and they want to be confident they’re steering people to trusted providers and institutions based on reliable information about outcomes and adherence to quality measures. Employers also have an important role to play by leveraging their purchasing power with health plans, hospitals and third parties to help accelerate greater transparency in quality, outcomes and pricing.”

“Cancer is not one disease, but literally hundreds, and therefore attempts to provide a single definition of cancer care quality are complicated,” Dr. Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, said in the statement. “Nevertheless there are medical community networks and alliances as well as accreditors who do in fact provide useful definitions of quality and promote evidence-based guidelines and pathways employers need to be educated about. We hope the resources we’ve produced are of significant help.